'By scrapping unnecessary content we open space for deeper learning'
Published 19/03/2014 | 02:30
In Mount Temple Comprehensive we have been yearning for curriculum change for some time. One of my predecessors, Rev William Anderson, wrote to the Minister for Education calling for change along the lines of the new Junior Cycle reform currently being introduced. That was in 1928!
So, when we read of the new Junior Cycle, we were delighted – here was an opportunity for moving from an exam-obsessed system to a learning-focused system; from irrelevant content to deeper knowledge and learning, from rote remembering to the development of key competencies and skills.
From October 2011, we discussed the change with teachers involved and agreed to proceed along the lines being proposed.
We chose three subjects. We surveyed the parents of our incoming first years, 96pc of whom chose the new Junior Cycle style over the old in the subjects offered: metalwork, home economics and business.
Since then, the teachers have developed subject courses. The process was important.
They describe how they moved from fear and uncertainty – through hard work and peer support – to insight and confidence in curriculum change; to new forms of more engaged teaching and learning; and to a greater variety of assessment methods that are closer to the learning.
In the words of one: "By scrapping the unnecessary content, we give the children head space for deeper learning.
"By not having to worry about covering content for an irrelevant exam, we can uncover learning that engages students, motivates them, and leaves them better equipped for further learning".
The other day, I bumped into Rob (not his real name) from second year who was rushing to his metalwork class. I asked him what he was learning.
His eyes lit up. "You won't believe it, sir. We've been designing gliders. Now we're working in groups building gliders. We're getting marks for the design we've done; then for making the glider. We're also getting marks for how creative we have been, and how well we work together as teams.
"When they're finished we're going out to a hill somewhere, we're going to fly them, and we're going to get marks for how well they fly . . ."
I suggested to him that this could hardly be fair; surely if the wind changed direction . . . he was clear: "No, you're not getting it sir. It's all about design. If we design them well, then make them well, they will fly well."
This child is engaged in learning that is more fun than football; he is learning skills that will be with him for life; and he is clear about what he learns, how he learns, why he learns, and how he is assessed on what he has learnt.
He also learns constantly from how he is assessed.
In the old system, because of the way the previous metalwork exam worked, some of what he would have been learning would have been of little or no use for anything; some of the ways in which he would have learnt, even with the best of teachers, would have served to teach him that he was a failure.
With the new Junior Cycle, this invidious form of educational exclusion need be no more. This Junior Cycle reform, far from being introduced too soon, is being introduced decades too late.
It needs to be introduced now. In Mount Temple we know it works, because, like some other schools who have also pioneered this, we've tried it, and proved it.
LIAM WEGIMONT, PRINCIPAL, MOUNT TEMPLE COMPREHENSIVE DUBLIN