Mike Hourahine and ThinkGlobal School

Certainly an inspiring meeting. It’s wonderful to see the open connected learning philosophies we read about are, at least sometimes, being put into practice. It’s also impressive how the global scope of the school is so clearly aimed at creating world-aware students. Wonderful stuff.

TGS Core Values

TGS learning philosophy

In terms of reflection on the colloquium, I focused on the following two questions:

  • How would you teach if you were not constrained by institutional requirements?
  • How have you become heightened to institutional constraints, as you have journeyed through your M.Ed with CSU?

From my point of view – I find these two aspects very connected: what I have learned and become more conscious of, certainly effects how I would like to teach.

For example, listening to Mike, I certainly felt in agreement with the point that “Focus on high stakes exams and teaching to the test all but eradicates wonder and curiosity”. Clearly, I’m not alone in feeling very restricted by the ever-looming spectre of formal testing. In my own case, however, I think it might actually be worse than most: In my English language school, we work to 5 week ‘teaching periods’ (a telling phrase!) at the end of which students are tested on very specific language skills. This is truly crippling as far as opening the classroom to a student-directed, curiosity-led experience. Furthermore, because my students are international students investing large amounts of money and time into ‘qualifying’ for university, it is, in any case hard to take their minds of their understandable desire to ‘pass the test’ and onto the more real world and potentially fun goal of ‘learning English’.

If we were not constrained by these requirements, I would like to see us ditch this counter-productive focus on tests, and bring our students’ focus back onto what our mutual goals should really be: to learn to communicate and comprehend better.  If this were the case, I can see very clearly how collaborative, student-led project work could open up possibilities for exploring the local community and environment. How student interests and curiosity could be engaged and harnessed to provide situations for putting language to work and creating deep and real peer support and interaction. Digital tools and media would play a large role in this to allow asynchronous work outside the classroom as well as face-to-face project work. The assessments themselves, would also take a more fluid approach, and allow students to mould them to the content and format choices that they made during the course. Assessment would also be more formative and progressive, allowing multiple attempts and revisions from first steps to final mastery.

As things stand, student and curiosity-led learning is hard to imagine- with tests being to regular and specifically prescribed. I will, of course, continue to advocate for a change to a more open curriculum based more upon communication, but in the meantime, collaboration and peer-to-peer learning at least remains a possibility.

I found Howard Rheingold’s (2012) views on ‘peeragogy’ and how changes in teacher-student and student-student dynamics can evolve, as quite reassuring. It is a little daunting to make the leap from  ‘pedagogy’ (which suggests teacher transmission of information) straight to self-directed, peer-to-peer and collaborative learning. However, I can see, and hope I have already started to implement changes to the classroom ‘culture’, so that collaborative learning takes a central role, and if the content is not open, at least it can be explored in ways where the teacher is truly a facilitator amongst a group of ‘co-learners’.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Toward peeragogy. DML Central, 23. Retrieved from http://dmlcentral.net/blog/howard-rheingold/toward-peeragogy

Hourahine, M (2017, July 25).  Think global school: lessons learned from building a travelling high school.  CSU INF537 Digital Futures Colloquium No 2. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://connect.csu.edu.au/p9rzmlpjxrq/