Category Archives: Transferable Skills

Transferable skills

Transferable skills seem to divide opinion quite strongly. On the one hand we have some educationalists who like the idea of teaching transferable skills like “critical thinking”, “resilience” etc. And there are others who regard skills as being inextricably interwoven with the knowledge of the subject and the exercise of the skill to achieve something.

As an example think about the selection and evaluation of primary sources in history:

  • The transferable skills group will see this as a way of instilling a healthy scepticism about reading newspapers and other modern sources of information.
  • The knowledge and skills are scrambled group will merely regard it as a teaching children how to select and evaluate primary historical sources.

Who is right?

I am beginning to position myself with the “scrambled egg” theory of knowledge and skills. There seems to be a lot of evidence from cognitive science that this is actually how the brain works. Though I would acknowledge that some macro-skills like use of language, numeracy etc. do cross subject domains and are thus transferable.

What put me in mind of this debate is the following quote from a website from the Michaela Community School

“ICT is taught through the other subjects but does not have its own discrete lesson. For instance, spreadsheets are learned in Maths lessons and the basics of coding will complement the learning of algebra. Digital photo software is used in Art lessons and films can be made using complex technology in Drama and English lessons. Four state-of-the-art computer suites are being built. At GCSE, we plan to offer Computing GCSE (as private schools do, instead of ICT GCSE).”

Interesting. This seems to be a very strong statement that they think all of ICT / CS skills are transferable. And perhaps they are correct. I would agree that my Word Processing skills are not stuck in the subject domain of English. Though I do wonder how they will teach the appreciation of computers in society, operating systems, hardware and other rather singular subjects.

Food for thought.

 

Seven myths about education – Daisy Christodoulou

This little book – Seven Myths about Education – has received some attention from reviewers – herehere and here and appears to have caused a minor stir.

I have managed to get a copy from the library and have read the intro and first two chapters.

I will give my reaction to the books message later.

For now I want to deal with how the book deals with evidence and theory. This book has been accused of putting up straw men to easily knock down. And in the reviews above you will find elements of those accusations.

So I was prepared for a book that might annoy me with an over simplistic positioning of the myth makers. And what I got was a much better thing. Each chapter is neatly organised into three parts:

  1. Theoretical evidence
  2. Modern practice
  3. Why is it a myth?

Part three is all about evidence from cognitive sciences, and psychology. And this is what most attracts me. There seems to be a growing cross disciplinary subject called “learning sciences“. And what struck me is that the evidence from the first section is from writers who had no evidence but their experience – they were working at time when there was no scientific study. Great thinkers like Rosseau, Dickens, Dewey, and Freire were writing cogent and persuasive arguments based on their experience and analysis of contemporary education and classrooms.

Compare this to cognitive scientists, memory scientists and others who attempt to tease out how we actually remember things, and how we think. I have been reading another book that reviews the current work on “How we learn” which demonstrates that the learning sciences are growing rapidly and counter so many of our commonly accepted ideas about study and learning.

One of the best lines from the the Seven Myths book is the scrambled egg metaphor by E D Hirsch: “who sees the relationship between knowledge and skills as being like a scrambled eff. You cannot unscramble an egg, and you cannot unscramble knowledge from skills.

Which in turn reminds me of the jam being stirred into a rice pudding image from the wonderfully thought provoking play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. (I wonder if Hirsch borrowed the idea from Stoppard and who in turn Stoppard stole it from?)

And this is what pedagogy needs. We need to shed the thinkers who used only the evidence of their experience. Anecdote is not evidence. The subject of how we think cannot be left to an individual’s experience of their own thinking. All the studies and books I have read about the cognitive sciences generally echo the fact that our thought processes are not transparent to our conscious brains. A scientific basis is required, on which we can build an evidence based craft of teaching.

 

What are new skills to teach in the 21st Century

One brave blogger has attempted to list the skills they thought are the important ones for school children to have in the 21st Century.

21ST CENTURY SKILLS – THEY EXIST AND THEY MATTER…

They had broken their list into three parts:

  1. Totally new skills (did not exist pre-21st Century)
  2. Skills that existed in the past but are much more important now
  3. Skills that are always in demand but now have technology to help!

As I read the list I wondered about how these skills should be imparted? Should they be directly taught? For example tell them we are going learn touch typing and how to position the hands and which fingers are used on which keys. Or should we teach them via work? As them, for example, to write 200 words about their favourite film and the first person to finish gets to read it out.

For me any listing of 21st Century skills should be broken down into these parts:

  1. Best taught directly
  2. Best acquired by doing as part of other work
  3. Best a blend of both

And then it might become more apparent which skills a teacher should be concentrating on in designing lessons.