Preparing Students for the 21st Century

In education and business circles, there is a great deal of conversation about how to prepare the next generations for an uncertain future - and one in which technology plays an increasingly larger role. Daisy Christodoulou, an educational researcher and devotee of Core Knowledge founder Dr. E.D. Hirsch,Jr., wrote about 21st century learning in a recent blog, "Why 21st Century Skills are Not That 21st Century":

"It is quite patronizing to suggest that no one before the year 2000 ever needed to think critically, solve problems, communicate, collaborate, create, innovate, or read. It probably is true that in the future, more and more people will need these skills, and that there will be fewer economic opportunities for people who do not have these skills. But that would suggest to me that we need to make sure that everyone gets the education that was in the past reserved for the elite. That is not redefining education for the twenty-first century; it is giving everyone the chance to get a traditional education."

"We need to make sure that everyone gets the education that was in the past reserved for the elite. That is not redefining education for the twenty-first century; it is giving everyone the chance to get a traditional education."  - Education Researcher Daisy Christodoulou

The Pitfalls of Student-Directed Learning

TASIS believes that a strong, content-based curriculum is the best preparation for an indefinite future. It is difficult to imagine that the alternative to our Core Knowledge curriculum -- one in which students don´t learn facts, knowledge, language, communication, history, arts, and math -- could prepare them for much of a future. Development of critical thinking begins with considering how things actually work (and how they have worked in the past). Having appropriate background knowledge is essential to understanding how to approach new problems with a critical eye. 

In some educational circles, there exists a philosophy that students should determine their own learning paths, decide what is important to them, and be empowered to “own their learning.” While this approach is fine for mature students with sufficient background and self-discipline, it is a terribly inefficient way to approach a young student's learning.

At TASIS, we believe personalizing student learning should be accomplished by meeting them at their individual readiness levels as they are introduced to a rich, content-driven curriculum, not by sacrificing to a student's momentary desires the complex body of knowledge we want every educated person to master. 

Our content-rich curriculum means we develop students who do more than recall a series of disconnected facts. It's a poverty of instructional knowledge and creativity that leads us to believe we must choose between teaching students content or critical thinking. Before we can teach students to think critically, it's essential that we provide them with something meaningful to think about!  We expect our students to engage in thoughtful collaborative discussion of serious texts, not simply devouring fiction for its own sake. 

We believe in inquiry, discovery, investigation, and other forms of student-directed learning, but only after students have developed a significant body of knowledge and a basis from which to inquire. You can´t be an expert without knowledge. You can´t be a good investigator without subject-area background. Even knowing how to effectively "Google" something requires the relevant vocabulary and framework of knowledge to make sense of what is found. 

Why The Curriculum Matters 

At TASIS, we believe that what students study (curriculum) and how they are taught (pedagogy) are the two most important inputs of student achievement, a viewpoint that is supported by a significant body of research. 

This is why we have adopted the Core Knowledge curricular framework for our elementary school. It is also why we hire the best teachers, offer them the most competitive compensation, and spend more time than most schools on faculty professional development.

John Hattie´s famous Visible Learning educational research -- a meta-study covering thousands of research studies and millions of students – uncovered elements that affect student performance… but not necessarily what was expected. Of the elements we can affect, those shown to have an impact on student achievement included teacher quality, challenging curriculum, high expectations, providing useful feedback, and classroom climate. Interestingly, in the early grades, student inquiry, project-based learning, small classes, and even homework had little effect on learning.

In the words of the renowned Portuguese Education Minister (2011-2015) Nuno Crato, who attempted to overhaul the national education system, “Since 2000, our country had been progressively abandoning the romantic and failed ideas that dominated past school reforms: loose curriculum, no external evaluation, no memorization, spurning high culture, emphasizing popular culture, and so on.” He determined that replacing a knowledge-based curriculum with “new fads” was the culprit behind the lowering of the country’s scores on international achievement tests.

Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. designed the Core Knowledge curriculum to ensure both vertical and horizontal learning alignment, with no overlaps or gaps, less teacher subject matter choice, strong teacher resource materials, and a unified approach to learning across grade levels and between subject areas.

I invite you to visit TASIS Portugal to learn more about our classical approach to learning and how it can benefit your child. 

 - Keith Chicquen, TASIS Portugal Headmaster


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