Last year I became fascinated by a T.V show called ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ in which Jamie Oliver created a brand new secondary school facility for a small group of youths who had dropped out of mainstream education but had recognised (albeit with some encouragement from their parents) the need to take another crack at school life.
The school was different to most, because it offered a more practical experience of learning. Plus the teachers were mainly famous which I’ve no doubt helped add to the appeal of turning up for lessons.
One of the best lessons I saw was a maths lesson. When I was at school we had to learn maths because there would be an exam on it. That was the only reason why (as far as I could see at that time). I was quite frankly sick of the unimaginative scenarios in our out of date text books: “Fred has travelled 50 miles in 35 minutes. How far will Fred have travelled in 27 minutes?” Show your working out. My answer: “That depends on if he puts his foot down or not”. In the maths lesson at Jamie’s Dream School, they worked on real life problems which made the compulsion to learn it greater. There was a bigger ‘why?’
“The reason why we’re going to learn about percentages is so that you can figure out which credit card is offering the best APR and will save you the greatest amount of money based on a balance of £1,000 being cleared off with payments of £150 each month.”
Then make it real. Have the real credit card leaflets there so that the pupils are clearly using their skills for a real life purpose.
When I studied GCSE English we read a book called ‘Roll of Thunder hear my cry’. Luckily it was a pretty engaging story, but for others they were resistant to it before we’d even got started. Part of their resistance could have been caused by them not having a big enough ‘why’, or a ‘why’ that appealed to them personally enough.
Of course the reason why we were learning it was because it was our GCSE Syllabus. But we could have known some other ‘why’s’ before we got started that may have intrigued or inspired those who would ordinarily be reluctant to engage in GCSE English.
- Understanding the impact of violence.
- Struggling to achieve success.
- Being betrayed and how to respond.
- Living in poverty and remaining happy.
The highlighting of the additional learning that the book has to offer can be a 5 minute job.
- “Who here has been or knows someone else that has been affected by violence?”
- “Who can you think of in the media that has struggled to achieve success?”
- “Where in the current news can we see evidence of betrayal?”
- “Who here feels that their financial situation isn’t as good as it could be, yet you still are able to have a good life? How do you achieve that? Does money always/ever equal happiness? What really makes people happy?”
Summerised with ..”and that’s one of the topics that we’ll be learning about as a result of reading this book.”
The more the subject matter can be related to real life contexts that are above all relevant to the young people who need to learn it, the easier and more interesting it is for them to learn. What if those god-awful Sex education lessons we had to sit through were put into some context that was relevant for young people? I wonder if they would be more engaged in learning about how babies were made if the uterus belonged to a lady called Beyonce and the fertilizing sperm from a bloke called Jay Z.
The world has changed and the way in which children engage has changed. We can point the finger at parents, diet and video games, but we’ve spent the last 10 years doing that and it isn’t making disengaged youngsters anymore engaged. We have to work with what we’ve got – The celeb society, the spending culture, the dynamics of relationships with young people all exist so lets begin to creatively weave them into the reasons why they should learn the subjects that we teach.