Today’s article is guest-written by Peter Fremaux, Head of Secondary; he discusses the pioneering masters of teaching methods and learning practice, and how their work has influenced the IB approach to learning.
Teaching like all professions is based on a large amount of research and theory. As a trainee and young teacher I spent much time reading studies on what makes for good teaching and studying some of the titans of the educational establishment and this is something I still enjoy doing today.
In my formative years as a teacher I remember being excited by Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. It made sense that students would achieve more working with and supported by others. Piaget’s ideas on child development and how they move from concrete to abstract excited me and I was equally excited by Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and earlier work by Kolb. This shows us how we all learn differently and lessons should allow us to do so. I remember being excited about Feuerstein’s work on Thinking Skills and meta cognition that showed me that we become better thinkers and develop higher order thinking skills by ‘thinking about how we think’. I then came across learning methods to make us better thinkers like de Bono’s Thinking Hats and Buzan’s Mind Maps. I was really excited by Bloom’s taxonomy, which showed me different levels of understanding from the basic remembering information to the more complex making judgements about it. What I then became really interested in was research by the likes of Costa and Kallick who discussed ‘Habits of Mind’ and later studies on ‘Building Learning Power’. This showed me that it is all very well understanding how students learn and filling their toolbox with techniques to help them learn, but if they lack the attitudes to learn then it’s all a waste.
What is a bit sad about this is how educationalists in many parts of the world still bemoan the current quality of teaching and learning. I have lost count of the number of training sessions I have been to in the past twenty years where someone says schools are using teaching methods from the 1800s to prepare students for the challenges of Twenty-First Century. What is also surprising is how old the theories that excited me are. Vygotsky was writing in the early 1930’s, Piaget’s early works goes back even further. Bloom’s taxonomy is from the 1950s, favourites like De Bono and Gardner are over 30 years old and Costa and Kallick published over 20 years ago, again building on earlier work.
Reviewing the research, we cannot help but see that learning is not based on teacher centred, didactic teaching styles and the beauty of the IB is that it is rooted in the works of the likes of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Neill, Dewey and Bloom. Clearly there are examples of good teaching the world over, but what marks the IB out is that approaches to teaching and learning is at the centre of all we do. I can’t claim to know every curriculum in the world, but those that I do know are focused on what content needs to be taught and how it is assessed. They may contain bits on approaches to teaching and learning and how to develop lifelong learners, but these are often tucked away at the back of long curriculum guides, easily ignored. The IB is truly the only curriculum that has at its core preparing students for the ever-changing world we live in today rooted in the ideas that excited me so much when I was younger. Now, as you know, we very much must maximise the exam results our students get. We also know that whereas these results have an enormous impact on students’ future education and careers, we should never lose sight of the fact that the students future success requires us to focus on how they learn and developing those habits and dispositions that will ultimately lead to success.