Our Principles of Learning in Practice

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, Inquire, Inspire’:

  • 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 projects.

Neil Allen – Secondary Principal


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