Last year I moved from a school in Barnsley, North England,UK, to a school in Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE. And I want my first blog post to reflect on the question “What’s changed?”
The first big change for me was the learning culture in Dubai. In Barnsley, a lot of students were from families that had encountered mass unemployment and job loss for those educated and uneducated alike. I felt a culture of distrust among students and it was a daily challenge to convince them that education was a gateway to great things. This made for a stark contrast with Dubai, where most students were from families who are doing very well because they did very well in school – their parents might be lawyers, engineers, or doctors and as a result, a lot of these students are comparably well motivated for school.
My non-contact hours were once used shuffling seating plans in a hopeless bid to separate the talkative majority by splitting up the well-behaved minority. Or preparing various behaviour management techniques. Or following up the previous lesson’s behaviour reports and lunchtime detentions.
Now? Two words: Planning and marking. My students will run through roughly four times the volume of questions, tasks, and project work that my previous students would. And further to that, they will expect feedback the moment they click “Save”.
The single biggest change is one that I’m sure I’ll spend the majority of my time blogging about, because it is the single biggest mind shift I have experienced. And that is the shift from delivering teacher driven, content based lessons to student driven, inquiry based lessons.
When I left the UK this was a word that was being used a lot in teaching and learning sessions and educational blogs everywhere. But inside the schools I worked in and visited, I saw very little evidence of it successfully, or even seriously, being implemented. I am sure that there are many schools across the UK that are in fact doing a fantastic job at this, but in my experience there was more “talk” on this than there was “walk”. However, not for one moment did I think that teachers were the culprits for this. We were, and I believe still are, working in an environment in the UK where the way in which we are told to teach, and the way in which our students and our lessons are being assessed are not mutually agreeable. It is not possible to both give students the time and the freedom that is required for successful inquiry and have them score as highly in standardized tests as students that have learned by rote – particularly when the specification for these tests is seemingly designed to fill every classroom hour.
So to summarize before I spend my entire first post ranting , it has been refreshing to enter a curriculum which appears to be more supportive of fostering inquiry based skills in students. And one of the reasons I have started this blog is to reflect on various technology or techniques that I have implemented into my classroom to aid inquiry based learning.