Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Critical Skills Workshop

{I attended a Critical Skills workshop last week which was led by one of my colleagues. These are my notes from the workshop with only minor edits of the live capture}

The Critical Skills programme started in New Hampshire in 1981. Teachers and business leaders go together and drew up a list of life skills and characteristics that they thought pupils would need. The ideas in the programme are not necessarily new but it provides a structured approach that uses variety of techniques and may help teachers to examine their practice and work in more pupil centred ways.

Skills identified by the programme include:
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking
  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Management
  • Leadership
There is strong emphasis on problem solving and pupils centred activities ("...less teacher voice"). Community building is a key feature. The Critical Skills programme clearly fits in with other current developments such as Curriculum for Excellence, Assessment is for Learning, enterprise, creativity and citizenship, etc. (e.g. collaboration, listening to others...).

Putting it into practice: In the PGDE(S), Ashley Reid {the presenter of the workshop - DM} has worked much harder at community building and challenges than she would have otherwise. She has also used challenges to explore the areas students identify as more problematic. The challenges are worked on as small groups and then the results are shared. The hope is that students will take some of the ideas into their own teaching. For example, one challenge was to produce a Dummies guide to an aspect of the curriculum. {The Dummies Book Cover generator could be useful here - DM.}

We were then set a challenge to come up with a board game that will raise money for the university. :-) The board game was to focus on Curriculum for Excellence. The game has to highlight good practice already happening in Curriculum and Pedagogy classes. The purpose of the exercise was to encourage collaboration and we were expected to describe what our collaboration would look like and sound like. {These were written on post-its and collected in. The idea was to check at the end if we'd met our own criteria. However, we did not take this part entirely seriously and after playing with the jargon generator for a while we said we'd look like "...we were herding cats" and that we'd sound like "...academic guffaws!" - DM.} Different roles were defined for the group, e.g. facilitator, resource manager, quality checker and time-keeper.

{Our game started off as a cross between chess and Risk but got modified as we went along. The game board is divided into four quadrants, one for each of the CfE capacities. We wanted people to be able to repulse other players from their quadrant somehow but never worked out the mechanism for this. Where we ended up was that you would roll dice to land on challenge squares. Successful completion of a challenge gets you a Capacity Card (or a wedge for your playing piece). Crucially, to complete a Responsible Citizen challenge and an Effective Contributer challenge you have to work with one of the other players. There is competition because there is a winner but you cannot win without co-operating with fellow players. Example challenges were: Confident Individual - Talk for one minute on animal testing; Effective Contributer - Direct a blindfolded partner through a maze. Once you have all four types of Capacity Cards, you can storm Jargon Hall Towers at the centre of the board and win the game. - DM.}

The two groups produced two very similar board games {although ours was much better :-) - DM} and in the debrief we looked at what we said the groups would sound like and look like. Did we learn what colleagues were doing? Did we collaborate? Did we feel creative? How would we improve it? In our case perhaps there should have been more focus on the curricular content and less on creativity. {However, in the time available it was perhaps inevitable that we would concentrate on the game idea at the expense of the curriculum. For the workshop we spent about 20 minutes on an activity that would normally last 2-3 hours. - DM}

A screen full of references was displayed but the only one I got was Hillis, P. (2008). Authentic learning and multimedia in history education. Learning, Media and Technology, 33(2):87-99.

So, what do you think? Does anyone have experience of using the Critical Skills approach in the classroom?

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