Over the last few years we’ve done a string of education projects, together with a publisher called Blink Education. They’re the new kid in town in The Netherlands and their star is rising.
Our first project together was to develop a curriculum for English lessons (as a foreign language) in Elementary schools. To facilitate this, we conducted countless interviews to find out the needs and wants of children this age, to encounter English. We discovered they use and learn English mostly through gaming, social media and music.
We also learned that they hardly picked up any English in class; their teacher was afraid to speak English in front of the classroom and terrified of using the SmartBoard.
“We also learned that they hardly picked up any English in class, the teacher was afraid to speak in front of the classroom and was also terrified of the SmartBoard.”
So we decided to develop a curriculum based on music. Children love singing along but mostly they don’t even know what they’re singing about. Yet they are genuinely curious to understand the meaning of the words as it brings the song to life.
Together with Blink, we came up with Groove.me. Start each lesson with a list of words that makes up a song which is popular today. You don’t know which song it is yet, but if you pay attention you will fully understand it in a minute.
Guess the song (that’s really hard), which is then revealed. From language experts we had learned that singing really improves articulation. So the class sings this song together a few times, saving the teacher from speaking when she fears to speak. For each lesson a student is asked to operate the SmartBoard as that days conductor. An honorary job, one that relieves the teacher of this job, without drawing any attention to it.
Groove.me turned was instantly a great success. Now, one out of two school choose to work with the new method, while we had only hoped for 20% at most. A university has proven academically that the students learn more with Groove.me than any other curiculum in the Dutch market and teachers and students alike graded it with a 9, where 6 is the market average.
Moving On Up
In the years that followed we did a range of new subjects in a similar fashion. During these projects we interviewed over a thousand teachers and spent many weeks in schools. And we discovered some enlightening stuff. The main ones are pointed out brilliantly in a speech by Claire De Pont who delivered this at TEDxEducation. Here she explains how the current education system is choking teachers who should be growing our children not feeding them verbs on schedule. Must see.
What I’d like to point out in this post is what it is that we now recognise as one of the biggest drivers of the success of these new curricula. For this let’s take a small step back.
In general any successful proposition is desirable and is has purpose – We want it and we need it
In this case – I think we can all agree that education has great purpose. We need our children to grow and be educated. Please permit me not to dwell on what they should learn and if math and language should be the primary focus, like they are now in the Netherlands. For now, let’s just agree that education as a whole, is something we need.
So the problem is not that we need it. The issue is that the children don’t really want it. They do not have a burning desire to sit in a classroom. And I don’t blame them. They are mostly bored.
“The issue is that the children don’t really want it. They do not have a burning desire to sit in a classroom. And I don’t blame them. They are mostly bored.”
Most publishers still primarily focus on the didactical and theoretical area of learning. How to effectively transpose knowledge and skills. Then, only secondary, they try to make this in a way it connects to the world of the student. This often means picking popular themes or subjects that interests students.
Now that is great but not nearly good enough! If you want them to want to be in a classroom, you need to blow them away! Don’t just try to connect, but really make them feel something. Touch them, reach them, excite them. That is a whole different level!
Stop measuring how long kids are in school. Measure the time that they really want to be there. Because that is when they learn by pull, not by push. From what we can tell the difference is vast.
Jorien Castelein, owner of the publisher Blink, has spent a year in the back off classrooms observing children for days in schools. She calculated that they were engaged, paying attention and, in her view, learning less then 15% of the time that she observed them. The other 85% then were mentally simply not there.
But if a teacher was really able to bring the class to life, truly connect to children with stories from her own life, as a human being, then this percentage would fourfold. If not more.
She now takes this dead serious and takes no prisoners. She has every lesson that is made tested in at least five schools to really witness firsthand if students are really moved by the content and the lesson. Each lesson is structured in such a way that it supports teachers to be that human being that helps our children grow.
“She has every lesson that is made tested in five schools to really witness first hand if students are really moved by the content and the lesson.”
I think that we need to accept the simple truth that students learn if they want to be there, not if they have to be there. Pull Education.
If we fully embrace this then it will change the way we think about teaching. Also, we would not just push technology into schools expecting that to do the job. This approach potentially transforms the way we teach, design schools, use technology, design curricula, support and (re)school our teachers.
True, this is a real challenge in practice. But the rewards are amazing. We’ve witnessed this now in classrooms and after that you’ll really accept nothing less for your children. And why should we?