Contemporary Learning

A time of uncertainty: There are two absolute uncertainties that affect all students as they begin their educational journey with us this year. The first is what their career might look like when they graduate from A.B. Paterson College in 12 years’ time; and the second is what will have happened in the field of information and communication technologies. To reinforce the latter of these two uncertainties, technological development continues to innovate and expand at an exponential rate and thus ’Moore’s Law – so named after the Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who predicted that transistors on computer processors would double every two years – is continuing to be the norm fifty years later. Hence, the only statement that can be made regarding technology is that 12 years is a long time….

At A.B. Paterson College, we have a highly successful teaching and learning framework in Teaching for Understanding. This has provided the perfect pedagogical structure to establish the contemporary skills that our students will need, in order to be able to successfully to take on the challenges that their career might bring. Perhaps in the ‘App’ industry? Which 12 years ago didn’t even exist!

Our students need these contemporary skills, which are becoming increasingly essential to be successful in a career or careers, as never before, for the indication is that a student still in education now will have had multiple careers by the time they are forty. These contemporary skills – summarised as the four ‘Cs’ – collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking – sit alongside problem-solving and innovation and are a vital part of any educational curriculum.

At A.B. Paterson College, our students are encouraged to deepen, share and demonstrate their understanding in innovative and effective ways. To facilitate this, our teaching has moved away from the more traditional learning, to be technology rich and thus maximise our delivery of these contemporary learning skills. Digital or eLearning has enabled us to provide effective personalised and differentiated learning. To ensure that all of these skills are appropriately developed, we need to emphasise group learning and collaboration. Students must work in small groups, work together on problems, discuss solutions, access data, and present their results using multimedia software. Equally, the collaborative elements have to be managed such that they are authentic and every student has a vital contribution to make.

And so to our pedagogy: WIDE World (Wide-scale Interactive Development for Educators) is a professional development programme based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. At the start of the Teaching for Understanding Coaching Course delivered by WIDE, a key question is always asked: What is understanding, and how does it develop? Participants would then be asked to discuss the subtle, but important, difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ and why it is so important to focus teaching pedagogy on the latter. Having coached on this course myself for many years, I have seen a varied selection of answers – some good and some bad.

To quote from Dr David Perkins, one of the chief architects of the Teaching for Understanding framework: Understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-demanding things with a topic…understanding is being able to carry out a variety of "performances" that show one's understanding of a topic and, at the same time, advance it. Within the Teaching for Understanding framework is a push for real world authentic learning via their generative Topics. These dovetail beautifully with the need for students to apply their knowledge, by participating in increasingly sophisticated learning performances, coupled with an utilisation of the contemporary skills. As Stone Wiske, another key designer of the framework, once said, “TfU encourages ‘Courageous Collaboration’!”

Here at A.B. Paterson College, we have used the ’21 CLD learning dimensions’ to embed contemporary skills into our curriculum at the highest level. Planning and implementation of this has been ongoing for the last couple of years.

We have the facilities: Our Collaborative Learning Centre (CLC) with a splash of fizzy lime, a mega dollop of mandarin and a soupcon of nova grape sounds more like a tantalising fruit smoothie than the bright razzamatazz of smart, contemporary designed learning spaces adorning this facility. Flexible, agile, comfortable and informal, students from Prep to Year 12, and staff, can choose where, how, and with whom they work, from an assortment of innovative learning hubs and work areas which give access to various technologies within the CLC.

And so to the future: or the Al Gore book ‘The Future’ that describes six drivers of change:

  • A more globalised economy
  • Planet-wide electronic communications and developments in robotics
  • A new political economy, in which influence and initiative is shifting from west to east
  • Unsustainable population growth and resource depletion
  • Advances in biological, biochemical and materials science will enable human beings to reshape the fabric of life
  • Radically unstable relationship between human civilisation and the earth’s ecological systems

If this is to be the case, we face a future that will be extremely different from anything we have known in the past.  Thus, we must ask a key question - What is learning for?

The Teaching and Learning team at A.B. Paterson College is constantly reflecting on this question and to ensure that we get an answer that allows us to best plan for our students, we keep abreast with the latest educational research.  There is a constant need to consider how we can best meet the educational needs of our students, as we debate and plan the educational vision for A.B. Paterson College, but rest assured that it will be made with a sound research base and will have the future interests of our students at its heart.

Here at A.B. Paterson College, we will continue to embed the Teaching for Understanding framework into the very heart of our teaching pedagogy and, at the core of this, we will continue to address these requirements. Some of the key aims of Teaching for Understanding are ensuring that students learn by participating, exploring, leading and collaborating with both their peers and their teachers. Teachers will also constantly encourage students to learn by searching for new possibilities and experiences.

As Elbert Hubbard once said, “Fences are made for those who cannot fly”.

Richard Worsey
Director of Teaching and Learning