Adapting our approach: St Peter’s Boys Prep School’s Flexible Learning Programme

| June 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Scott Hauptfleisch And Rob Macaulay

The development of a learning programme that is intrinsically motivated, self-directed, interest-driven and, to a large degree, self-assessed has been identified as an educational aim for St Peter’s Boys Prep School in Witkoppen, Johannesburg, Gauteng, for some time.

There are always challenges to overcome in the development of this type of programme, not least of which is the fear of change by some major school stakeholders. They raised questions about the readiness of pupils to engage in self-directed learning, how we would deal with the perceptions of traditionalists regarding the move away from teacher-driven classroom lessons, and questions regarding assessment and the allocation of marks.

Learning to expect the unexpected

These questions had the potential to become stumbling blocks that could prevent the full-scale implementation of what we christened the Flexible Learning Programme (FLP), until a completely unforeseen event in May 2015 – massive roadworks around the school – forced our hand.

Traffic congestion was such that the “school run” was taking families up to two hours. We were left with little choice but to implement a programme that allowed flexibility with regard to the start of school in the mornings and even compulsory school attendance. Emergency planning took place and our teachers were given one day to prepare work packs that would allow for online learning from home, as well as adhering to the principles outlined at the start of this article. Due to these teachers’ creativity and professionalism, by lunch time of the first day of the FLP, all students had received their packs and the electronic communication that underpinned the programme was in place.

Dramatic data results

While there were some parents who did not agree with the decision to move to voluntary school attendance, the majority of email communications during the week were extremely positive – both in terms of parents’ positive response to our creative solution to deal with the roadworks and, more importantly, about the standard of the work packs. There was a noticeable sense of excitement about the programme during the week of implementation. It was decided to gather data after the programme had been completed – not only to assess the degree of success we had achieved, but also to calibrate the process for further roll-outs. Qualitative data was gathered from staff, pupils and parents using questionnaires and interviews, and this was added to the quantitative data gathered throughout the program.

This data was used to inform the implementation of our second FLP, which was completed in July 2015 and did not offer pupils the option to stay at home. Even so, the sick bay remained empty during the programme! This second round of the FLP indicated that the boys were far more capable of structuring their own work. The rubrics, which had been developed, refined and shared by the teachers, helped the boys to effectively judge the standard of work that was required. Once again, the final presentations of the work indicated that creativity, commitment and engagement were greatly enhanced by this methodology.

Technology ties it all together

Technology played a major part in the implementation of the FLP. Fortunately, the boys were comfortable working in a number of digital environments as a result of general classroom-based exposure prior to the intervention. Of particular benefit to the programme were the ability to work in Google Classroom1 and the use of a variety of Apple apps for creative purposes. In addition, Mathletics2 exercises were set, and the use of this online option meant that basic revision and drill could also continue during the week.

Technology also played a particularly useful role in terms of communication. By using various technological platforms, the boys were given a glimpse of how technology is applied in the modern workplace. It allowed for cross-classroom collaboration that fostered better time management, shared ideas, and a polished product based on pupil interaction. It also allowed them to collaboratively troubleshoot the benefits and pitfalls of the various assignments. This interaction between boys on both a private and public level resulted in the creation of joint solutions. This application is in accordance with the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition Model (SAMR)3 for technological integration, which is based on the notion that technology should not be used purely on a substitution level, but should be used for the creation and completion of new teaching and learning tasks that may, previously, have been inconceivable.

The type of learning that takes place during the FLP weeks is very different to traditional classroom learning, and is also far from our “project weeks” of old. The greatest differences are in the choice of topic, medium of presentation and the use of higher-order questions requiring not only the application of skills, but also the evaluation of research and the assimilation of new knowledge.

Standing the true test of time

The FLP is based on a flipped learning approach,4 which is achieved through the use of technology. The lower order skills of retention and comprehension of knowledge are largely practised at home or during “individual” time. This basic transfer of foundational knowledge is what has traditionally taken up at least half of the classroom-based lessons. The FLP methodology allows for class time to be better used as pupils clarify concepts, collaborate, discuss and develop their own solutions to real-life problems. This mirrors how problem-solving takes place in the workplace and prepares the pupils for life in the information age. We look forward to refining the programme further as we implement our FLP pedagogy in the years to come.

References:

1. See: https://www.google.com/edu/products/productivitytools/ classroom/ utm_referrer=https:%2F%2Fwww.google.com.
2. See: http://za.mathletics.com/.
3. See: https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model.
4. See, for example: https://www.unh.edu/it/kb/article/course-profile-flippedclassroom. html.

Category: Winter 2016

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