Moving away from the factory model
During the industrial revolution, factories were revolutionised by the assembly line. Each person in the line would have responsibility for a certain part of the product, and when they all worked together, the finished product would come together as a tank. Or a plane. Or a machine gun. This was seen as a great boon for the war effort. Rather than one person making a product, a whole lot of people working together could get it done much, much faster.
Schools were based on this assembly line model. Children were grouped into batches (year groups) and were moved through the process with a whole lot of different people contributing to the overall product. The children would have a different subject every hour and those hours would be separated by bells. Efficiency was valued over everything else. As long as the children were sitting in neat rows and absorbing information from the 'bosses' then all would be well.
This model gave children a great introduction to the assembly line, factory work that they'd be doing once they left school.
"...the first factory-type schools, whose main purpose was to prepare kids to obey, follow a schedule, and be trained and retrained for the assembly-line jobs most of them were going to take on." (Will Richardson, 'Why School')
Times have changed, there are no longer as many assembly line factories as there used to be and children are growing up in a world with a whole lot more freedom and creativity than they used to. The world is globalised, and everything is at most children's fingertips with the click of a mouse, or now, the touch of a screen.
So where does that leave education?
Sir Ken Robinson's famous TED talk The Changing Paradigm, describes how schools are killing creativity, and imprisoning students in this factory model.
Te Karaka Area School is one of many schools around New Zealand who are changing the face of learning as we know it, and trying to steer clear of the factory model. Here's how.
No bells: Te Karaka Area School doesn't use many bells, and if we didn't have young children around we would probably not use any at all. This teaches children to self regulate, to take some responsibility for themselves and to take ownership of their own learning. It also allows students to learn for longer than an hour if they want to. There's nothing worse than getting really involved in something and then having to drag yourself away from it because someone, somewhere decided that an o'clock is a time to change focus.
No Batches: we don't use single year groups in classes, we have multiple year groups together at a time. In 2014 we will have the year 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5s together, the year 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10s together and year 11, 12 and 13s together. This way children aren't grouped into years where they are 'supposed' to be learning something. They can learn it when it's appropriate for them and is their next learning step.
No 'classes': of course we still have teaching and learning going on, but it's not separated into hour slots that the learners need to adhere to. Learners need to timetable their own day, so they can choose if they want to do their PE first and their maths second, or if they want to have a break after English because they know they'll be tired after concentrating on their writing.
Preparing children for the future is not only our job, but our duty as teachers. Our school is determinedly focused on what is right for students learning, not what feels most comfortable for the teacher. It's time now to throw off the shackles of the factory model and to experiment with new ways of doing things. Involve the learners in this process too, they know what works best for them, they know what engages them the most, and they have the most to lose by not doing it.