In our Secondary School at LIS, our students undertake three stages to their educational journey: the Middle School Grades 6-8, the Cambridge IGCSE years of Grades 9-10, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma years of Grades 11-12. During the Middle School years, our curricula found here is based loosely, in some subjects, or closely, in others, on the Cambridge Lower Secondary programmes. From Grade 9 onwards, the ‘what’ of student-learning is driven by the requirements and expectations of the Cambridge IGCSE and then the IB Diploma.
However, there are reasons why we have chosen those pathways at LIS, and those reasons shape all of our decision-making regarding what we teach, how we teach it and how we check that learning is occurring effectively.
For example, our first two
principles of learning outline the different methodology we employ to teach for
learning of conceptual understanding, and to teach for learning of skills:
We teach for learning of concepts and ideas through the process of guided inquiry, so that students can apply understanding to new areas of study.
We teach for learning of skills and competencies through modelling, deconstruction and joint reconstruction, so that students can apply skills independently and practise to achieve mastery.
It is imperative that learning is
not merely passing on knowledge to students in a way that they receive and
regurgitate it in a test of recall, but that we have them explore content in
such a way that they can identify the essential ideas within that knowledge,
are encouraged to do something with the knowledge and understanding they have,
and that we develop our assessments to move beyond recall of information to
applying what knowledge and understanding exists into a new situation,
circumstance or to different illustrative material. We are, after all, all
teachers of both content and process.
By adapting our teaching for
conceptual and skills-based learning, rather than merely the recall of
knowledge, our learning environments also develop other character traits within
our students, enabling them not only to become critical thinkers, but also
effective communicators and collaborators. Moreover, the material chosen to
illustrate certain ideas and understandings can also teach our students to be
empathetic, and considerate of global as well as local issues, norms and
values. By learning in an interactive and proactive manner, with the emphasis
on doing something with the understanding other than answering a test paper
(and inevitably forgetting the information soon after, as so many of us did
when at school), ironically not only will students be more effective at
recalling knowledge, but also more able to apply understanding of larger ideas
to new contexts:
We teach to promote individual critical thinking and research capacity, so that students can explore local and global contexts and develop innovative solutions to the challenges of our time.
We teach and model for learning of effective student character traits that align to our values and promote a healthy, happy and meaningful life.
We teach learning dispositions and skills to enable students’ self-management, for them to be rigorous, responsible and resilient in their learning behaviours.
We teach for learning of communicative, collaborative and social skills, to enable students to live and work effectively in their future personal and professional teams.
There is no doubt that the
Cambridge IGCSE courses are more content-heavy than is preferred by some
educators. There is certainly more prescribed content – which can lend itself
towards teaching for knowledge recall, given the nature of the assessments –
than the IB’s equivalent Middle Years Programme (MYP). However, there must also
be a reason why the majority of schools like ours, happily committed to the
rigorous demands and exceptional outcomes of the IB Diploma, choose Cambridge
IGCSE over the IB MYP during these years. My own experience tells me that one
cannot build conceptual understanding in a vacuum – instead it is built upon a
whole body of knowledge and understanding of content, just so long as
connections are encouraged and understanding is applied – and when the MYP is
done badly (as I have seen) students start their Diploma years without
sufficient knowledge on which to build later on. This to me is a greater evil
than having only learned knowledge in a ‘recall and regurgitate’ manner.
But it is crucial, nonetheless,
to move beyond this, to develop methods of teaching for knowledge that is
interactive and proactive, and to develop learning for conceptual understanding
through the processes of guided inquiry. This is and has always been at the
core of the methodology for the IB Diploma, and during the past decade
Cambridge too has made it integral to their philosophies. They talk about
developing learning knowledge, understanding and skills in ‘subject content;
applying knowledge and understanding to new as well as unfamiliar situations;
intellectual inquiry; flexibility and responsiveness to change; working and
communicating in English; influencing outcomes; and cultural awareness,’ with
all of their syllabuses aiming to create students who are ‘Confident;
Responsible; Reflective; Innovate; Engaged’.
Evidently, Cambridge believe they
are doing more than preparing students to pass tests of knowledge, and we are
committed to doing the same. For example, they recommend 130 hours per subject
over the two years of the course, however, we teach students each subject for
between 150 and 170 hours. In this way, we can ensure our learning is more than
simply the delivery of content, but instead includes all of the exploration
outlined in the principles above. Moreover, from January we have embarked upon
an ambitious documentation process of all of our unit-planning for effective
teaching and learning, and have written and adapted our templates based on the
best understanding of how to teach for conceptual understanding. By having
clearly articulated ‘Learning Purposes’ for understanding, for skills, and for
character learning in each unit or scheme of learning, by identifying the
‘Essential (Conceptual) Questions’ for each topic, and by developing rich
assessment tasks that allow for application of what is understood rather than
simply a test of knowledge recall, our curriculum and teaching for learning
will continue to develop in the very best inquiry-based manner. This will also
allow all students, regardless of their prior knowledge and abilities, to
participate and develop with appropriately targeted feedback in effectively
differentiated classrooms and, in this way, meet our promises to ‘Include,
We teach for
learning inclusive of all, differentiating learning and using formative and
summative assessment to direct feedback and inform growth.
On a related note, alongside this
commitment to academic learning, we
continue our striving towards effective holistic
and internationalist learning.
Alongside our well-known and successful musical and sports programmes (the
Performing Arts led by Mr. Paul Foulkes, and the Athletics led by Mrs. Gillian
Allen), we are currently developing our offering in the field of Visual Arts
(led by Mr. Steve Lewis), and in a whole host of extra-curricular offerings
hopefully to be integrated for the next academic year. This will be very much a
team-effort, however, much groundwork has been done by Dr. Susanne Schleif,
Assistant Principal of the Upper School, in order to develop the enrichment
offer we provide for our students.
Finally, in keeping with our
motto of ‘Learning to be a Citizen of the World’, it is a key concern of the
internationalist to understand local and global issues, to be cognisant of our
common humanity, and to provide support and solidarity to people from other
places at times of crisis. In this way and at the time of the global COVID-19
crisis, we have welcomed one student in particular initially visiting from
China to remain with us and study with us until she can return “home”. This is
not only something we were very happy to do, but something that we felt was our
duty as a truly internationalist school. The relentless drive to be ‘citizens
of the world’ will continue during our Project Days in June, during which our
school motto will be the thematic arch connecting our varied and creative
Neil Allen – Secondary Principal
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