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Lessons That Stick

by Diana Patchett

I was lucky to be raised in a literature-rich house. Bedtime stories were the norm from when I was a very young child, and this practice continued through to when I was school age. My younger sister and I shared a bedroom that was full of picture books and fairy tales; but if I were asked to recall more than a handful of the titles, I would struggle.

‘The Little Engine That Could’, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs’ are just a few of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories I was read as a child; but if asked to name any more I find it difficult. Take a moment and reflect for yourself. What titles do you come up with? What is it about these tales that has them permanently etched into your mind over all the others?

There is more to these stories that just an interesting set of characters, an engaging plot or intriguing setting. These stories share a message, a strong link to a concept, bigger than just an entertaining story. There is nothing wrong with enjoyment, with appreciating something for the moment; but quality education demands lessons that stick.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes are built on this premise. Other content or topic-driven approaches to curriculum delivery place the teacher or the textbook as the fount of all knowledge and assessment involves a test of a student’s ability to regurgitate facts. The IB endorses a teaching and learning model where students are invited to engage with a provocative question or conceptual notion, then given the freedom to investigate and explore in order to defend their position.

An example in a Junior School context might be the topic ‘Antarctica’, a typical theme delivered in a content-heavy primary school environment. All students in the class would be exposed to the same information and expected to produce the same outputs; perhaps a poster, an information report, a blue-and-white painting, regardless of their prior knowledge or interests. If they were lucky, the students might be able to choose their own Antarctic animal to study. Then to be sure that the students had learned something, a test would likely be given on the facts (as we know them at present) of Antarctica. Pity the student who has no interest in this icy continent.

Conversely, the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) might introduce this unit of inquiry with the question, “How do humans interact with their natural environment?” Antarctica may well be one domain that is chosen to illustrate the answer to this big question, but it would not end there. Students with an interest in Africa or those having recently visited Milford Sound or the Great Barrier Reef would be encouraged to explore those contexts. Sure, all students might still be supported in producing a specific literary genre, but they would also have the freedom to engage their curiosity and follow a line of research that is of interest to them.

The culmination of this student-centred inquiry is perhaps the most powerful learning tool, as students come back to share their learning with their peers. In the end, the class environment is rich with examples of how humans interact with their natural environment, each one delivered with each child’s own excitement and passion of discovery.

Our hope is that during a child’s journey through Kristin they will learn how to learn, they will be provoked to consider higher order concepts, they will maintain a love of learning and they will learn lessons that stick.