Professor of New Media Environments at the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University
You can't build better learning FOR children...
But you can certainly build it WITH them. Children are fascinated by learning, and their reflective practice—trying out ideas from all over, observing and critiquing the teaching and learning in their own school, swapping ideas and innovation—always and everywhere produces engaged, smart, articulate learners. Trying to improve learning without listening carefully to the learners' voice is like trying to drive with your eyes shut. Of course, they can be daft as brushes sometimes, but I have learned to trust them and to value their voices and views always. As they say in China these days: we should teach less so that we might learn more.
Learning starts playful, and should remain so...
Playful learning is about much more than simply making schools more seductive and delightful. Play presents you constantly with surprise and with unexpected new challenges. You need to think hard and fast. This new century is also full of remarkable surprises (economic collapse, volcanic ash clouds, major pollution spills, tsunami...) and, partly because new technologies let us sail a little closer to the edge, these surprises will increase in frequency, impact and scale. If our children are going to be able to solve the resultant new problems they will need ingenious strategies and an agile speed of thought. Playful learning gives them that; sitting in an examination room hoping that there are "no surprises on the test paper" will not. We should play more and test less.
Parents really really really really matter. So do grandparents...
It is all too easy to be fatalistic: surely parents' education, economic status and stability determine their children's learning successes? Well, the research, and my own work too, are hugely encouraging. It is not who you are as parents, but what you do that matters most. Every parent wants the best for their children, but we have not helped them to play their part: talking to children from the outset, developing that all-important "sense of other", massively limiting their passive TV viewing (and making that viewing a time to talk and discuss), thinking about diet and brain, reading stories regularly... and above all celebrating successes in a praise rich household, can all see children thriving in the least likely contexts. Yet we have barely even shown parents or grandparents what we now know about reading effectively to children, let alone the rest. We jolly well should.
Be Very Afraid...
Mostly, we hugely underestimate just how good our children might be. For years we encumbered them in swimming pools with armbands and flotation devices before we realised that, like 4 month old baby Spencer on Nirvana’s "Nevermind" CD cover, they could swim perfectly well at less than a year old. Schools too often overprotect children, with overcautious ambition, with mundane tasks, with locking and blocking "for their own good". I can say, unequivocally, with over 30 years of successful learning projects behind me, including the then world's largest internet learning project, that the most successful of all my own projects were the ones that kept me awake at night worrying, in a cold sweat and with a sense that "this time Stephen, you've gone too far...". I never had. Put simply, if you are not scared by what you have asked children to do, then you haven't asked enough of them.
There are a LOT more than 5 things that matter!
Education is amazingly complex. Teachers will know that even a windy day will change children's learning. Educational fundamentalists tend to think that just a few details are key to transforming teaching and learning: leadership, data, competition, discipline, whatever. They are entirely wrong. Great teachers all know that it is not, can never be, that simple. A myriad of details matter. And now that we know so much about those details—from cognition and pedagogy to nutrition and hydration, from lighting and temperature to taking shoes off—it would be criminal not to incorporate the complexity of that understanding into today's teaching and learning.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Professor Stephen Heppell is a leading voice on the role of ICT in learning and is Professor of New Media Environments at the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at Bournemouth University. Previously, Stephen spent around a quarter of a century building Ultralab, which established an exceptional, unique, reputation as a world leading learning technology research centre. He later went on to head his own policy, research and practice consultancy which advises governments and national agencies throughout the world on the strategic development of ICT.
Professor Heppell’s "eyes on the horizon, feet on the ground" approach, coupled with a vast portfolio of effective large scale projects over three decades, have established him internationally as a widely and fondly recognized leader in the fields of learning, new media and technology. Stephen has worked, and is working, with governments around the world, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies, with schools and communities, with his PhD students and with many influential trusts and organizations. He is a member of BAFTA and in 2009 he was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award from British Education and Technology Training (BETT).