Educators and teachers are increasingly critical of the traditional teaching system, that is to say, direct instruction classes in which the teacher is the protagonist. In this society of the Internet and instant information, pupils need other tools. Other methodologies. Fortunately, some are already being applied.
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL PHOTOS: MÁXIMO GARCÍA
9 am and the teacher enters the classroom. The pupils are silent and listen for about 60 minutes to what the teacher tells them. Sometimes they take notes. Other times they underline phrases in their book. They often do not grasp what the teacher is saying because they find it boring and far removed from their reality, so they take advantage of a passing fly to get distracted, or even try to slip their cell phone out to send a WhatsApp message or sneak a look at their Instagram. After a while the bell rings: class has finished. The pupils close all their books and the teacher leaves. This is what is known as passive learning. What teachers have always done to give classes, and pupils to learn. But, is such a system still valid in the 21st century? There are many professionals and experts who believe it has become obsolete.
For example, Richard Gerver, a teacher who, in 2002, turned the soulless school he ran outside Nottingham into an example of innovation that attracted the attention of intrigued colleagues from 50 countries. His theories can be read in books such as Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today. “The current system solely values academic results, yet we need to create a broader educational experience that helps youngsters find what interests them and discover their own talent. For this to be possible, we must increase the number of experiences the kids have throughout their education. This is achieved by providing opportunities for such experiences to arise in the school, affording each of them the same value.
Something is not right. This is made clear every year in the PISA report, the most renowned international test in the world, in which Spanish pupils fail in a practically systematic fashion. But, above all else, the telling data are the academic failure rates. According to the EPA (Labor Force Survey) data in Spain for 2015, 19.97 percent of youngsters now aged 18-24 left school at the end of their compulsory education. One of the reasons for this failure has to do with the lack of motivation among pupils. Luis Cacho, musicologist and president of the Promete Foundation feels that: “We must engage pupils in their own learning process in order to double the success rates.”
From these data it can be deduced that the education system is in need of a significant structural change. Why now more than ever? Because, as Gerver says, pupils nowadays in no way resemble pupils in our day and, when they become adults, they will not resemble the adults we are now. A real challenge for the teachers who have to deal with them every day in the classroom, who have to search for new tools and new formulas for their new pupils. This is what is known as educational innovation.
This new system may entail a quest for personalization and the introduction of different ideas in the classroom; the use of games as a teaching method; the responsible use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and flipped learning or inverted education. These are just some of the new methods already being used in some schools in our country. And mentioned by the four speakers at the Educational Innovation Seminar organized by Fundación MAPFRE and the OEI (Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture), within the framework of the Fundación MAPFRE project Educa tu Mundo [Educate Your World], whose goal is to promote education in values, disseminate culture, foster healthy habits, and promote financial and insurance education.
In search of the egalitarian school
Fernando Trujillo Sáez. Doctor in English Studies and professor at the University of Granada
Why is there a need for educational innovation?
We are being faced with new contents for new people and, to some extent, a what-for question. We are living in a world with a dizzying pace of continuous change (technological, economic and legislative), while schools keep moving as slowly as ever. This is a time of great uncertainty where the least likely future is one in which nothing changes.
Today’s pupils have little in common with those of some years ago. Is the lack of motivation one of those differences?
Motivation is not included in the backpack of 21st century pupils. Our boys and girls live in a world saturated with excessive stimuli (video games, virtual worlds, etc.), all of which means that motivation has to be ‘co-created’ in the classroom.
What are the challenges facing schools in the 21st century?
Success must be guaranteed for all pupils everywhere. Regardless of the neighborhood, region or country in which they live. Only when success is guaranteed for all will we be creating an egalitarian, democratic, free society. Education that does not aspire to the success of all will, at the very least, only create a two-speed society and, therefore, will not be fair. We must reduce the gap between boys and girls who achieve good results and those who get bad results. We cannot be satisfied with these academic failure rates. Moreover, they have to teach in the present with an eye on the future, a future we might not even experience. And we must ensure that our kids go down this path with courage, autonomy and the skills to be able to live in that future.
“Education that does not aspire to the success of all will, at the very least, only create a two-speed society and, therefore, will not be fair”
One of the key factors you claim is fundamental is tutoring…
This term sounds like an old-fashioned concept and is often immediately taken to be something tedious. But learning is an individual activity played out in a group, and tutoring is a top-quality resource for ensuring it takes place in an effective manner. Tutoring is the key to inclusive education. It is the system of seeing pupils as people. Because it helps glean information about the family, the student, their parents, how that family lives, and what they are concerned about…
And, what role does technology play in all of this?
Technology has an impact on the way we learn and, nowadays, citizens not only have to retain data (which is still important), but must also be able to explore, observe and experiment. It’s learning in a more complex reality than the one we lived through. And, in this sense, project-based learning (PBL) continues to offer teachers resources and proposals for reflection, with a technological basis and a clearly social orientation.
What can PBL offer our children?
It basically consists of three steps. We are going to propose a challenge to our pupils (because our pupils face continuous challenges – in video games, social networks, etc.) to seek quality, useful, reliable information. We then have to accompany our pupils to see that they duly process that information and draw acceptable, scientifically-valid conclusions. And, from there, create artifacts, often technological developments such as electronic books, presentations, comic books…
And how is this assessed?
The new assessment has to be a tool for advancing toward success and that is why we need to look for an alternative assessment method. An educational project with a lot of academic failure is not a good educational project. Because we must go beyond the classroom, look at the social environment and ask that social environment to accompany us in this process of change. And take into account the circumstances of the children when they get home.
The ICT as an innovation tool
Tamara Díaz Fouz . Doctor in Education with a degree in Psychology
As an expert in educational innovation, are the ICT absolutely necessary for education nowadays?
The technologies are a tool, they are yet another instrument that should be available to teachers. They are therefore not indispensable. There are tremendously innovative proposals in the field of education that do not use any kind of technology, yet respond to processes of change and improvement. Innovating in education is much more than simply incorporating technology.
Why is innovation more necessary in education now than ten years ago?
It’s always been important to understand innovation as a process of change and improvement which seeks to produce transformations. Insofar as we now have a different context as regards technologies, with rapid changes occurring at breakneck speed, we must indeed be able to respond more swiftly to events. Our pupils are living in a context that requires them to respond at a pace which previously was not necessary.
Does the appearance (invasion, perhaps) of ICT make it more difficult to teach?
To start with, educating is a very complicated task. But it is true that our pupils are now much more exposed to information. And in such an immediate fashion. We could say that, previously, all the information came from the teacher and the encyclopedia; and there are now more competitors. So it’s not so much about giving out information, but rather that pupils should be able to distinguish between useful and useless information. Because they also receive disinformation. What is known as infoxication, i.e. intoxication due to information overload. And it’s important to be able to tell which sources are reliable. For this reason, I don’t think educating is more difficult. I believe it’s different, that it calls for other skills.
“Social networks are a kind of black hole where you send a message; if you aren’t capable of managing it, you don’t know how far it can go – to hundreds or thousands of people”
Skills, I understand, required by the teacher…
Indeed so. In this sense, the work of teachers has changed. They are no longer mere transmitters, nor are pupils mere receivers. Teachers have to be able to motivate pupils and ensure they are capable of learning to learn throughout their lives. The kind of skills required of a teacher has changed.
Is it more a case of using technologies in the classroom or of teaching pupils how to use them responsibly?
It’s true that using tools in the classroom is an interesting option, but it’s the pupils who must use them. It’s the teacher’s job to make pupils responsible for the use they make of technology, both in and out of the classroom. That’s why they must be made aware of the scope of these tools, particularly with regard to the Internet and social media. They must be taught to make a reasoned, ethical use of them, within limits; and they must be shown the possible consequences of bad or inappropriate use.
I believe that, despite everything they are told, they aren’t aware of what the use of technology really means…
Social networks, for example, are a kind of black hole where you send a message; if you aren’t capable of managing it, you don’t know how far it can go – to hundreds or thousands of people. Or that the photograph you send to one specific person, in milliseconds can be seen on the other side of the world. We adults find it hard to grasp, and the kids even more so. It’s very easy for things to get out of hand. And it must be borne in mind that we adults didn’t grow up in this environment, and so it’s harder for us to educate them as to what it means.
Gerver says (as do you) that this is the most sophisticated generation. What benefits and what harm can this bring them?
I think he was referring to the fact that this is a generation with immediate access to information, with constant stimulation, living in an extremely fast environment. One of the main drawbacks is the difference between the context in which they live and the context of their educational model. These kids need more motivation, they need challenges. There is a huge contrast between the teaching mode and their natural way of having fun, socializing…
What about flipping the classes?
Manuel Jesús Fernández. Social Science teacher
Has the way we teach been rendered obsolete?
Nowadays we communicate, we seek information and we socialize very differently to how we did just ten years ago; however, schooling has barely evolved over this period. The structure, the basics, the school system as a whole has remained the same for ages. When someone thinks about school, they think the same as our parents and grandparents thought, and that demonstrates the lack of adaptation to social changes.
What do pupils need nowadays?
They are seriously lacking in a fundamental quality: they aren’t autonomous and this deficit can be put down to a highly mechanized, standardized school system and really overprotective families. Pupils need to be held more accountable, to have more control over their learning.They must make decisions, create their products, be creative, learn to collaborate, lose the fear of making mistakes, and be prepared for the world in which they live, not for one that no longer exists.
You advocate flipped learning. What does it entail?
Put simply, you could say that it’s doing the opposite of what’s normally done. With flipped learning, the order is changed: the theory is seen or read at home and the activities take place in class.
“With flipped learning, the order is changed: the theory is seen or read at home and the activities take place in class”
What is the main advantage of this teaching method?
We cannot speak of a single advantage, but one of them is undoubtedly making the most of classroom time for learning. But, there are many more: better knowledge of the pupils, catering to diversity better, making pupils more independent and responsible, and inserting informal, digital learning into formal learning.
Do pupils learn in the same way?
No. Not only do they learn from the teacher’s explanations, but also from their own investigations and explanations to others… in short, from what they do. So, their learning is not only different, but also more profound and real. The pupils adopt another stance with respect to the rest of the class and the teacher. The roles change and pupils become much more active participants. They decide, they investigate, they explain, they assess results…
Are pupils willing to change the way they attend class and learn?
Yes, but the switch is not always easy, nor swift. They are used to the ‘convenience’ of simply listening to explanations, doing activities and memorizing facts in order to pass the exam. Active methodologies force them to be more active, make decisions, reach agreements, explain, and be more responsible. But when they see that they learn more and better, that it’s worth the effort and they don’t have to memorize so much, they are all for it.
Who is more reticent, the pupils or the teachers?
In general, schools are routine-based institutions resistant to change. Therefore anything new – and more so if it means modifying the learning and assessment structures – is difficult to swallow. In my case, there’s much more reluctance on the part of the faculty than the pupils.
I believe that one of the keys to flipped learning is the relationship between teachers and pupils. In what way does it change?
When teachers limit themselves to explaining from their pedestal, they cannot get to know their pupils. When you move among pupils who are working, having doubts and resolving them, guiding them with their research and seeing how they work and what difficulties they have, you get to know them better and they will trust you more.
I imagine that part of the reticence toward this teaching mode stems from how it is assessed…
Assessment is the key to everything and has to be consistent with both the methodology used and with the pupils’ prospects. If you use active methodologies, you cannot simply assess them with examinations; and, if they are used as an instrument, they are challenges that may even be cooperative or collaborative, entailing skillful application of knowledge, rather than mere rote learning. Carried out in this way we achieve a much more continuous, formative form of process assessment.
The magic of learning in a fun way
Pepe Pedraz. Gamification designer & storyteller
What can games offer the learning process?
Concentration, attention to detail, collaboration, capacity for analysis, perseverance… Characteristics anyone would recognize as optimal skills for achieving effective learning. But there is more: at an early age we learn how to engage with others, take care of things, communicate, be organized, get frustrated, win, lose, cooperate… As we grow up, game-based strategies can go on to serve as ‘accompaniment’ during the process of acquiring knowledge. In some cases we can learn things while we play (an obvious example are the Historical Wargames), while, in others, the creation of a gamified environment will help us to feel more motivated and predisposed to acquiring this knowledge.
Through playing, we learn how to win, but also how to lose.
One of the key features of games is that they are won and lost. And we have to learn how to deal with frustration. The nice thing about games is that they allow us to learn this under the protection of that magical world which is created. When we win, we want to repeat it immediately; and, if we lose, we want to take on that challenge again and seek victory. All of us who have played Super Mario know that’s how it is! Face the challenge, lose, improve, win, take on the next challenge…
“One of the key features of games is that they are won and lost. And we have to learn how to deal with frustration”
What is the relationship between emotion and learning?
I always say that emotions are the glue of our memory. Does this mean that we cannot learn things that do not excite us? That’s not the case either (we’ve had to memorize heaps of things in our lifetime). But the motivation that emanates from our emotions really helps our predisposition to acquiring knowledge. What’s more, motivation is closely linked to the concept of fun, which considerably boosts joy and predisposition. Perhaps the biggest problem is that many people find it hard to see fun as part of the learning process. The best memories we store in our memory are fun ones and, in many cases, they are connected to learning new concepts, to teamwork or to some challenge posed by new situations, areas which are undoubtedly highly productive for people.
Do teachers generally engage in this form of teaching?
An ever-increasing number of people are showing interest in this type of learning strategies and tools. Moreover, fortunately, there are already clear examples in Spain that the use of games in the classroom can be a guarantee of real learning. The key to reaching more people each day has two aspects. Firstly, get families to understand (an ESSENTIAL element within the teaching process) that the use of game-based tools is useful. And, secondly, strive to put across the message that terms like ‘gamification’, ‘GBL’, etc. are meaningless without a teacher guiding the kids. By this I mean that the tool never replaces the teachers using it and that, obviously, it’s up to them to decide whether or not to make use of it each day. Because a good tool does not make up for a bad teacher. And, vice versa, teachers who decide not to use it are not necessarily bad teachers (far from it); they have simply opted for the use of other tools they feel are more suitable.
Fundación MAPFRE organizes activities and offers educational materials free of charge, all related to the topics covered in the Educational Innovation Seminar:
— amification Platform.
— Flipped learning.