A real audience for our students

This week, I had the pleasure of visiting the CM1 classes’ Wonder Garden exhibition – the result of their work in class with Mr Stracey based on the book of the same name by Jenny Groom. I was highly impressed by the quality of the end result and would like to congratulate the CM1 students on their hard work. The timing of the exhibition was excellent as it fits right in with something we should be giving long term consideration to: project-based learning and the impact student productions can have.  

The French educational system has historically given preference to a model that favours knowledge over know-how. To resume simplistically, it involves: presenting facts to students, asking them to learn said facts and then testing to see if they have understood everything they should. It is a model that culminates in high school (lycée) with students being able to write  well-organised essays sharing their knowledge. It is a cultural model, whose place and validity is not being called into question. It is a model has stood the test of time and has proved a worthy preparation for students heading to university and the challenges awaiting them there.

Nonetheless, over the past few years, French primary schools and middle schools (collège) have integrated student acquisition of know-how, skills and competencies into their methods of teaching and learning. Again, resuming simplistically, competency-based learning means knowing how to do something rather than knowing facts alone. As far as our CM1 students are concerned, they showed us that they know a lot about different habitats, but they also showed us that they know how to put these facts into context, they know how to talk about them in public, they know how to represent them with graphs, charts and illustrations, they know how to work in a team, etc.

Project-based learning is one of the key ways we can combine competencies, skills, know-how and knowledge (without even going into the interdisciplinary advantages). It is also interesting from another angle: it allows teachers to clearly define an anticipated outcome and expected end result from the outset (a show, an exhibition, a film, a blog article, a ciné-club event etc.).

The end result, whatever it might be, takes on a whole new dimension when there is an audience involved -children don’t recite their poems in the same way in class, when they know they will also be seen by their parents and grandparents on Seesaw. It is crucial for us to give ongoing consideration to the concept of audience because right now our students – the older ones at least – are hooked on social media and have enormous potential audiences at their fingertips – even though they are not always aware of the consequences. Schools need to get to grips with this phenomenon in order to accompany and guide students in their creation of intelligent internet content.

The internet is not the enemy; it is a tool. It is what we make it. Schools, and their students, should set a positive example of how the internet can be used productively. Some of our students are doing it already. They film, blog, vlog, tweet, instagram and despair in secret that their school is taking so long to get around to using those same methods to get learning done.  

Pretending that social media platforms don’t exist is not the solution, showing the potential advantages they have for learning is!

Have an excellent weekend

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