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«THE PROBLEM SOLVERS The teachers, the students and the radically disruptive nuns who are leading a global learning movement Open Ideas at Pearson ...»

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Charles Leadbeater




The teachers, the students and the

radically disruptive nuns who are

leading a global learning movement

Open Ideas at Pearson

Sharing independent insights on the

big unanswered questions in education




About the Author

About Open Ideas at Pearson

Charles Leadbeater is a leading authority Pearson’s goal is to help people make progress on innovation and creativity. He has advised in their lives through learning. This means we are companies, cities and governments around the always learning too.

world on innovation strategy and drew on that This series of publications, Open Ideas, is

experience in writing his latest book We-think:

one of the ways in which we do this. We work with the power of mass creativity, which charts the rise some of the best minds in education – from teachers of mass, participative approaches to innovation and technologists, to researchers and big thinkers – from science and open source software, to to bring their independent ideas and insights to computer games and political campaigning.

a wider audience.

Charles has worked extensively as How do we learn, and what keeps us motivated a senior adviser to the governments, advising to do so? What is the body of knowledge and skills the 10 Downing St policy unit, the Department for that learners need as we move into the second Tradeand Industry and the European Commission half of the 21st century? How can smart digital on the rise of the knowledge driven economy technologies be best deployed to realise the goal and the Internet, as well as the government of of a more personalised education? How can we Shanghai. He is an advisor to the Department for build education systems that provide high quality

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In writing this paper I had the good fortune to be able to draw on the ideas and insights of many people.

Some of the most powerful ideas came from the innovative and skilled practitioners I met who are developing more effective approaches to learning, including: Peter Hyman, Ron Berger, Douglas Archibald, John Baumber, Sir Mark Grundy, Gwyn ap Harri, Keith McDougall, Sister Monika Horch, Tim Jones, Barbara McKeon, Peter Hutton, Tom Sherrington, the principals and staff at Bekemaschool in Amsterdam and at Strandvej, in Ishøj, Copenhagen.

I also benefitted from lengthy conversations with Manuel Toscano and Clare Watson-Bartolomei at Zago, in New York and the education team at Kennisland, the Dutch think tank, who kindly organised a workshop with a clutch of innovative schools.

I also need to thank the organisers of three conferences for giving me the opportunity to try out my ideas with their audiences. Valerie Hannon, Tony McKay and David Albury, the forces behind the Global Education Leaders Programme, gave me the chance to address their conference in Auckland in 2015, sponsored by the New Zealand Ministry of Education. The team at LeapEd Services, developing Trust Schools in Malaysia, invited me to talk at a conference in Kuala Lumpur in late 2015. A very early draft of these ideas was presented to the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT) conference in 2014. Thanks to Sue Wilkinson and Tom Middlehurst for inviting me to speak.

Acknowledgements | 3 I also learned a lot from other people writing in this field, including Charles Fadel, John Hattie, Peter Hill, Geoff Masters, Yong Zhao, Andreas Schleicher, Tony Wagner, Linda Darling-Hammond and Ron Berger. I owe special thanks to the research team at Pearson who commissioned me to write this paper and who then helped me with extensive feedback on earlier drafts, especially Laurie Forcier, Mark Griffiths, Vikki Weston and my long-time sparring partner, Michael Barber. Thanks also to Lindsay Eichler for her assistance in developing the discussion questions found throughout the paper, and to Alex Brown for his diligence in compiling the many references and resources, as well as the school profiles. Finally, thanks to the team at Soapbox for their partnership in conceptualising the dynamic learning visualisations and developing the overall design. Errors and omissions are all my own.

4 | The Problem Solvers Executive Summary The core purpose of education needs to shift – from teaching students to follow instructions to preparing students to identify and solve problems.

Following instructions has been at the core, and has driven the success, of mass education. Yet in a more volatile, uncertain world, characterised by innovation and entrepreneurship, we now need to equip young people to solve problems of all shapes and sizes. Problems that will not come with instructions.

To make that shift, education systems need to provide dynamic experiences for young people through which they can learn in practice how to deploy knowledge in action, to work with others and to develop critical personal strengths such as persistence and resilience, to learn from feedback and overcome setbacks.

Providing a dynamic mix of theory and practice will require more than adding courses in entrepreneurship to our current systems of academic instruction. Nor will it be sufficient to introduce critical thinking modules into a curriculum designed to prepare students for standardised tests. The shift from “following instructions” to “solving problems” will require a much more comprehensive change in what students learn and how they learn it.

Education will need to develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and build vital attributes such as curiosity, courage and resilience.

To do so, education needs to become a dynamic activity, providing

a combination of four elements:

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• Personal strengths and character development, including helping students find a sense of purpose and ambition, and to build their resilience and persistence.

• Social experiences so they deepen their relationships with others, learn through dialogue and collaboration, and take action together to make and do things, for and with other people.

• Activities that give students a strong sense of agency, so that they learn how to turn knowledge and ideas into action, to see that they can make a difference to the world.

Each element matters in its own right. Yet it is their dynamic combination that brings them to life. The elements become powerful when young people learn to develop and deploy them together. Young people should emerge from school being able to read and write, add and subtract, use computers and calculators, understand a map and the history of the country they live in, and have a good grasp of basic scientific processes and a foreign language. Yet, in order to develop young people as creative problem solvers, education can no longer afford to rely so heavily on learning by routine. Education needs to take young people wider, deeper and further, to give them experiences of what it is like to take action, to make things, to serve the community, to work with others and to take on challenges that might once have daunted them.

Learning to be a creative problem solver involves knowing when to follow instructions and when to depart from them. It requires sound basic skills but also the ability to engage in higher-order critical and creative thinking, to find connections and combinations between ideas and concepts to unlock problems.

Problem solving of this kind is rarely just about being smart. It requires persistence to overcome setbacks; a sense of animating purpose to drive you on; collaboration to engage the ideas and insights of other people; empathy to understand the needs of others; the ability to turn ideas into action, to test and improve them. Learning to be a creative problem solver requires a dynamic 6 | The Problem Solvers combination of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, hard and soft, explicit and tacit, academic knowledge and entrepreneurial ambition.

Schools that achieve that mix are filled with skilled educators who know how to create these dynamic learning experiences. These schools do not fall prey to false dichotomies that divide the head and the hand, theory and action, the personal and the social, digital and real-world learning. On the contrary, they create new combinations of ingredients often thought to be at odds. And, indeed, these schools and teachers are talented problem solvers themselves.

“Assessment should be designed to help students acquire the skills they need to succeed” All over the world, educators and education systems are taking steps to make education more dynamic. New curricula are being developed to include these capabilities alongside basic skills and content knowledge. Schools are developing more effective methods of teaching and learning, which are rigorous and yet creative. New models of school, often involving project-based and realworld learning, are being created, inside and outside public education systems.

These developments are endorsed not just by students and teachers, but also by a growing band of employers, policy-makers and academics.

The area most in need of innovation in order to support dynamic learning, is assessment. But even here, there are a number of potential promising paths forward.

Currently, too many systems demand that students acquire the knowledge that assessment systems mandate. Instead, assessment should be designed to help students acquire the skills they need to succeed. Moving forward, increasingly dynamic assessment systems will involve both formal testing and lots of informal peer-to-peer and self assessments, meaning that students will need to become more used to giving and receiving constructive feedback that will help them learn and improve. This will be one of the most important skills students need beyond school. These systems will also have ceilings that rise and expand as student performance improves; will go beyond testing routine recall of facts to test higher-order thinking, problem solving and creativity; and will deliver Executive Summary | 7 qualitative descriptions and expert judgements of how well a student performs, as well as test results and grades.

What is at stake in the debate over the future of learning is not whether school systems rise or fall in the PISA rankings. It is about how well education prepares young people to flourish in a society awash with intelligent technology, facing an uncertain future, with endless opportunities for collaboration but also deep-seated and urgent challenges that need addressing.

We need to learn to be more human as society becomes more technological, to become more creative as work becomes more programmed, to be more empathetic as systems become more pervasive, to take the initiative rather than meekly follow instructions, to work together rather than go it alone. We are not robots. We must excel at being human.

We must facilitate the global learning movement towards more dynamic education systems. In this way we will allow more students to become problem solvers, and to develop the basic human capacities to care, empathise and to create. Those three abilities – to care about what happens in the world, to empathise with other people, and to create new artefacts and solutions – will be more important even than the new knowledge we muster.

8 | The Problem Solvers Sevenoaks School Executive Summary | 9 Notes 10 | The Problem Solvers Executive Summary | 11 Chapter 1 THE LEARNING DYNAMO

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The Learning Dynamo | 13 At first sight it looks and certainly sounds like chaos. About 40 young people are in six groups in a school hall. They are making a riotous noise, some with drums, apparently loosely supervised by three young teachers who seem barely to be in control.

To an observer glancing in, it would not look as if much learning was going on.

Yet, on closer examination, it quickly becomes apparent that this could not be further from the truth.

This class at School 21, a non-selective, state-funded school in London’s East End is studying history and drama at the same time, as part of their preparation for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations.

Working in groups, they are developing a Brechtian-style drama to explain the rise of totalitarianism. The drama embeds their understanding of the role of propaganda, authoritarianism and coercion in the creation of totalitarian states.

Their study of Stalin and Hitler in history lessons informs their drama. Each group spends 20 minutes in turn sitting in a circle on the floor in a corner of the hall, discussing their written work with a young history teacher, before returning to work with one of the two drama teachers. When a teacher wants to bring the room to order he raises his hand and, within seconds, the pupils are completely quiet. In the final 25 minutes of the double period, the class forms an audience that watches and critiques each performance.

There is a lot going on in that room, none of it chaotic and almost all of it designed to deepen students’ knowledge by taking an approach that is both highly engaging and intellectually demanding. The drama is made stronger by being based on historical research; the history is made more memorable by its dramatisation. It is a deeper, more engaging and effective way to learn because it is also more dynamic.

The dynamic interactions in the room abound: history and drama; the analytical and the emotional; learning by doing and learning by reading; physical movement and thinking; between the students and the team of teachers, and among the students themselves. Being in that hall is like being inside a small but powerful learning dynamo.

14 | The Problem Solvers THE PROBLEM SOLVERS: CASE STUDIES Throughout the text, you’ll find extended case studies of schools where dynamic learning is taking place. These are meant to be illustrative rather than prescriptive, showcasing the variety of ways that you might prepare people to become better problem solvers. They are also intended to shed light on the fact that this good work is happening around the world, in all different types of schools. To help provide additional context, short profiles on each of the featured schools can be found at the end of this volume.

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