You can learn to be exceptional by collaborating with student cohorts

Pedagogy is the study of teaching approaches and how the five main pedagogical models affect learners. A carefully considered pedagogy is essential to enable effective learning and the development of higher-order thinking skills.

Pedagogies are framed within the context of the past, unfolding present, and the future. They include our relationships to other students, and to colleagues and collaborators. I think we should see these relationships as resources. I learn more working with and for students than from anyone else. 

It's generally agreed there are 5 different pedagogical approaches to teaching. Each one is slightly different, and each teacher needs to decide which approach works best for them and their students. Most often, a combination of these approaches will be most effective in capturing the engagement of all your students.

The pedagogies I have designed at the Skills Studio  link to all five primary pedagogical models.

Constructivist: Learners are actively involved in the learning process. They create meaning and knowledge of learning material. Learners do not just passively ingest the material.

Collaborative: Multiple learners work together to learn material. Small group instruction is based in this concept where different students contribute and help each other learn.

Inquiry-Based: This pedagogical approach is problem-based. Students are presented with real world problems and have the opportunity to solve them. They ask questions and research further while learning concepts and materials that they may not even realize they are learning. Project based learning fits in this category.

Integrative: The integrative approach involves multiple academic disciplines. Common language is used cross-curricular so students know what teachers are talking about as well as expectations. This is especially important for reading and writing skills. Based on common language, students can write in non-English classes more proficiently. It also shows students that material learned in one class is beneficial outside those classroom walls.

Reflective: This approach is more for the teacher than the student. The teacher reflects upon lessons, projects, and assessments to see how they can be improved in the future.

To have credibility in front of your students you should work to be a whole person inside your pedagogy and includes two important subelements:

• You must find ways to be creative.

• You must not ask your students to do anything that you would not do yourself.

This embeds care and respect for the student, and enshrines a principle of modelling what you would like the students to do. I interpret the idea of “being a whole person” as essentially “being our authentic self”. Allowing our true self to be confidently and proudly seen in the learning environment helps students to be comfortable with and proud of who they are. It is also important for us to think about the context when shaping a pedagogy. One way is to see context as institutional culture. Educators do have to consider the institutional ethos of their employer and requirements about courses, teaching styles and standards. 

One of the most powerful pedagogical examples is where students and teachers produce work and learning together. The teacher becomes more of a mentor or coach helping students achieve the learning goal. Students also work together and use each other’s skills and expertise to accomplish a set of learning tasks. This can be in the form of projects over the course of a school term or something as small as think, pair, share. Collaborating and sharing knowledge is a very powerful tool.

One of the most effective examples of pedagogy is collaboration. After a teacher-led mini lesson, it is a good idea to let students try out the new skill with a friend. They are slightly more comfortable in a situation where they can ask their friends and the teacher a question than diving into trying the new skill by themselves. It's less daunting with a friend by their side. Students can practice with a partner before attempting to complete their homework on their own.

A final example of good pedagogy is using real-world examples. So many times students ask the question, “Why are we learning this?” or “When are we going to use this outside the classroom?”. Using real-world scenarios and problem-solving as part of lessons cements key skills more for students when they can see how it will benefit them after leaving the classroom. Math classes can use word problems; science classes can recreate experiments and research; English classrooms can write emails and short stories of about 200-words. Allow students to feel the reasons for learning the material.

I see my Skills Studio pedagogy as a toolkit. What attributes do toolkits have that I can carry across to understanding pedagogies? I can take a toolkit with me. It's portable. If I prepare it, and think about it before I go “on the job”, I can set it up to have the tools I think I need. But there are also just tools lying about in my toolkit that I can use on-the-fly and unexpectedly. 

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I can lend the tools to other people. I can show or model how I use my toolkit for people. I can teach my students how to use my tools, just like a plumber helps his apprentice learn his craft. In fact, we might see a toolkit pedagogy as a kind of cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, 1987), where learning occurs not through didactic teaching, but through ‘coaching’. 

Instead of hammers, nails, crowbars, gaffer tape and a screwdriver, my toolkit is filled with reflective knowledge, tips and tricks from a broad life experience, and positive personal attributes such as a can-do ethos and a creative outlook. 

My toolkit is mouldable into whatever I and my students need it to be. It won’t hurt us - it’s non-toxic. The play-doh can be transformed creatively. It's creativity itself. I can safely play and tinker with my designs for tasks and for courses, and with solutions for supporting students. If it goes wrong, no matter. We simply start again and after I admit that my plan didn't work out so well. By visibly living my pedagogy as something that can be creatively shaped, and by openly accepting it can go wrong, I show students that it is safe to create, to fail and, indeed, we can only learn from this cycle of creation and development.

All of our endless testing for perfection has grown out of the “mass manufacturing” metaphor. The reason is obvious: As a giant enterprise, the school system naturally lends itself to the industrial approach. Develop product specifications, design the production protocol, establish quality control standards, and continuously test compliance. 

Since the 19th century, the overarching goal of school curricula, was and still is, to provide the individual with the means to be economically self-reliant. From the mid-1800's onwards industrialization of the economy required a disciplined and industrious working class. This was achieved by structuring schools on a factory model that focused on the self-discipline of the work ethic, on knowledge that would be economically beneficial to the individual and to the social economy, and on processes of character building that molded the individual’s character to the moral and ethical standards of the society. These were the requirements of the educational system through which the child developed a relationship to the whole society and came to understand his/her place in that society.

But herein lies a problem. If you work on a conveyor belt, you consistently get the same type of raw material to start with, and you have a detailed scheme for the process, as well as a clear view for a standard final product. But in education, your “raw material” is always different, and we should strive to get unique, non-standard individuals as a result. Mass production is clearly not the answer. 

Many parents employ a “job” metaphor for school. But as a parent, do you bring your work home every night? Do it over the weekend? Take it with you on vacation? And if you do, are you still eager to work on it when the whole family sits down to chat, play and watch TV after dinner? And how many direct bosses do you have above you? How about six to eight different ones a day, each with their own quirks? Do they replace each other at the ring of the bell, demanding that you instantly and completely switch to the new assignment, regardless of whether you have completed the previous one, and do it in their idiosyncratic way? And if you do, is this the kind of life that you would wish for your children?

Since metaphors shape our understanding of complex issues, wouldn't it be wise for parents and educators to reflect on the metaphors we use while talking about school. How might we come up with a new set of metaphors that help us express the essence of the kind of education we want for our children in the upcoming century?

About the Author:

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Greg Twemlow is a Sydney-based Social Enterprise Founder | Startup Mentor | CEO | Writer | Speaker | Designer at the Skills Studio