The way we teach children in schools today is outmoded, out-dated and obsolete. Not my words, but the ‘safe for work’ version of the opinions some of my year 11 students recently shared with me.

There are some things that schools are doing very well, like tracking attendance, managing the social welfare of students among other things, but inspiring learning isn’t one of them.

Growing up, I enjoyed school. I wasn’t particularly academically minded, or overly gifted, but I was always enchanted by the process of learning. The problem was, the most creative learning I did was outside of the classroom, and for many, it’s still the same today. In fact, if anything, the classroom has become even less effective at creating curious, independent thinkers than ever before.

My classroom had an RM Nimbus computer in the corner with Caxton Press, a word processor, and a game which for some reason in my mind, I have associated with a tortoise, where we moved a triangle around a black screen by typing instructions into a huge, beige keyboard. UP, UP, Left, Down, Right…. Enter. The triangle would move along a path, then stop.

We were never taught why it moved, why we were learning this, or what function outside the classroom, being able to move a triangle around a screen could possibly have. We struggled to see the relevance of some of the things we did, and because of this, our interest in moving the triangle didn’t last very long.

Today, the big beige boxes have now been replaced by iPads, but not much else has changed. Students are learning the same things we learned about all those years ago in much the same way we did, and I can’t help but feel like we are doing them, and ourselves a massive injustice.

As an educator, I always try to engage my students ‘where they are’, in a place that’s relevant to them first. Getting to know my students has made all the difference to the success of my lessons. Having just the slightest insight into their backgrounds and interests, has helped me decide how to pitch my lessons in a ‘relevant place’ for them and in a tone they recognise.

I offer scenarios or problems that allow them to lead the questioning and information gathering process. Sure, I always have a learning goal, but I don’t allow it to dictate the learning journey, instead, I act as a tour guide, who makes sure the travelling party doesn’t venture too far from the track, and who get to their destination via the scenic route rather than the shortest.

By empowering students to take ownership of their education, and their own learning journey, we are also establishing in them, a foundation, that encourages and develops innovative, creative, strategic thinking and perhaps most importantly, problem solving.

Imagine the impact on the world if our schools specialised in producing inventive, resourceful, scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors, who are ready for a planet that’s in need of change and who are empowered to do things differently in pursuit of the solutions.

Now let me make one thing very clear. The problem is not teachers. Not most of the time anyway. This isn’t about teachers not teaching properly. We all know that teaching, although very rewarding, is also one of the world’s toughest jobs.

Teachers are shackled to a curriculum they have no input into, and are dictated to by results that have almost no link to real learning, and have more to do with levels and targets.

The problem is, our education system is built around a child’s ability to recall information and pass exams. The way we tech reflects this. Very little time is given to creative thought, problem solving or even pupil led learning.

Instead, teachers are reluctantly force feeding our children a curriculum that isn’t fit for purpose.

This is why many of our children are uninspired and disinterested in school and education.

Children in classrooms around the world routinely ask their teachers, “Why do we even need to know this? How am I going to use this in real life?”.

The truth is, many of us don’t know the reasons either, but we continue, because we have no choice. there are levels to hit and targets to be met.

So what now? How do we fix this?

The most obvious and completely unrealistic idea (for now) is to re-write the national curriculum.

With an eye on the future but keeping hold of the fundamentals of English and Maths, we could look at emerging industries, medicine, technology and the problems the world is facing like poverty, lack of clean water and viral diseases, and introduce subjects and themes that revolve around understanding and solving them.

A geography project could be to design a D.I.Y clean water kit that costs under £5. Coding should be a core subject, finance, money management and the business of investment could be taught along mathematics.

The opportunities are endless.

Sounds good right? But not so realistic. Here’s something I did that you can do too. I talked to my students and asked what they would change about the way they are taught. From there answers came these 7 gems that i’ve called:

7 Essentials for Successful 21st Century Teaching

  1. Use themes and ideas that students can recognise from their own lives to help them understand learning goals. For example, the use of alliteration in popular music, or real life uses of algebraic formulas
  2. Instead of always giving the answers, pose problems and questions regularly and allow then to find the answers themselves
  3. Regularly recap and make sure everyone is on the same page
  4. Ask the same questions in different ways to stimulate more thoughts around the same idea
  5. Develop a culture of debate and conversation
  6. Prompt but don’t push. Help students find their own way to the learning goal. This is often the difference between memorising and real learning
  7. Give students opportunities to present their findings creatively using music, building a webpage, a video documentary or even in a ‘Ted Talk’ style presentation.

I found all 7 points useful and effective, but number 7 in particular has proven to be a big hit.

Giving students the opportunity to present and work in different ways, allows everyone to express their learning creatively. Used at the right times, the opportunity to show their strengths in class, is a chance even the quietest or most resistant student will rarely pass up. Who doesn’t like looking good in front of their peers?

Not everyone wants to read aloud to the class, or can write their ideas as well as they can communicate them verbally, so we need to focus as much as we can on the strengths of our students. Find the areas they feel most confident and start the learning journey there.

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, and sometimes, it’s a better way to share an idea than a thousand word essay.

We can’t rewrite the national curriculum today, but we can re-write our lessons plans to include opportunities for our students to stretch themselves, engage more in their own education and be ‘inspired’ to learn and not just feeling ‘required’ to learn. It’s not just about knowing the answers, but also the journey to finding them that can teach us and definitely our students, more.

Thanks for reading. I’m Adam Brux (Brooks in ‘real life’). I’m an Educator, Mentor, Motivator & Broadcaster. Young people are my passion, and my purpose, is helping them find theirs. I’d love to hear from you if you have any creative teaching ideas, or have tried something new that went better than expected or completely bombed. Do you agree with my take on the modern classroom? How would you change the education system? I look forward to hearing from you.

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