octubre 21, 2017

Interview to Ana Pérez Saitua, coordinator in COAS programs

Ana Pérez-1

It’s a very useful methodology in bringing out the student’s strengths through the curriculum and in developing the student’s ability to “learn how to learn” in view of realising the objectives set by the EU as of 2020, insists Ana Pérez Saitua, expert in TBL (Thinking Based Learning) and teaching coordinator of COAS Educational Group. This group is comprised of the schools of Biscay, Gipuzkoa, and La Rioja, the majority of which will be accredited TBL schools upon completing their courses.

What’s the difference between TBL and other teaching methodologies?

TBL has aspects in common with several other methodologies, most of all those that favour the development of basic competencies. The difference is in how the classes are introduced, the graphic tools being used, and the unique way in which the subject matter is worked. It also includes collaborative work in all didactic units, fostering empathy, mental flexibility, leadership and entrepreneurship. Even without teachers being aware of it, these competencies are developed consistently throughout the course.

What is the objective of a TBL class?

The objective is for the student to thoroughly understand the subject matter and to acquire basic competencies. What we achieve through TBL is a high level of student involvement in the content. They will learn to use the curricular content: information, dates, facts, formulas – not in of themselves, but for reasons of investigation, problem solving, and real-life decision-making. But in order to achieve this they must be equipped with the necessary “thinking tools” that will allow them to better understand the content.

Is it necessary for the student to memorize the content?

This is also one of objectives in TBL, but the student wont be memorizing in the traditional way: reading a paragraph, underlining it, and learning it off by heart – all of which is forgotten after taking the exam. When the student draws up their own conclusions and works through the subject matter because they are interested in it’s real-life applications, when they work alongside fellow students, explaining conclusions amongst themselves, when they understand intimately how to explain a topic to their classmates, that is when they are truly learning and memorizing the content.

A class must be very practical in that case…

The students are required to practice a different set of skills in order to analyse ideas and arguments, compare, contrast, classify, and sequence, but in a very specific, thorough way – to process and broaden the information. They will later learn critical cognitive skills like judging the accuracy of information, the reliability of sources and statements, and how to understand different points of view. They will be required to make distinctions, understand probability, causal explanations, make plans, and test generalisations. In other words, they are expected to think about the subject matter by using their creative faculties.

Can you give me a practical example of a TBL class?

For example, let’s take a natural science class in grade 6 of Primary School – The subject matter of the day is renewable and non-renewable energy sources and the development of fair, sustainable energy. The curricular objective would be identifying the benefits and risks related to energy usage, and to uncover possible solutions. This can be a bit tricky for the students. Firstly, the teacher examines the students’ pre-existing knowledge on the subject. In this first phase they are required to talk in a group about what they already know, or have heard about, and share experiences with their classmates. At the same time the teacher can use various material: videos related to the theme, a magazine, or a current news article. The teacher then poses a motivating question that directly concerns the students. For example, what type of energy will it be practical to use in my house when I’m 25 years old? This is how the teacher challenges the students to make a decision.

So you are basically saying that we learn through decision-making.

The teacher gives the students a mental guide, and helps them understand the importance of a decision made over, for example, the energy source they would use: What are my options? What are the consequences of each option? Which option is best in light of the consequences? Using these questions as a starting point, the students analyse each distinct energy source and get to think critically about the issue. In this sense, they look at the pros and cons of each energy source, making predictions and explaining the consequences of each one. Then they choose the best option, in view of sustainability, while explaining their reasoning to the other groups.

Do you get to cover all the subject matter?

If you think about it, the students learn about the different sources of energy by compiling information, learning the pros and cons, analysing sustainability and durability, deepening their understanding on the specific issues relating to energy consumption, and in this way, they do cover all the subject matter. They have thoroughly examined the content, memorizing through their personal experience, they have understood the pros and cons for themselves without the teacher having to explain them. The students are taken through a metacognitive process that enables them to understand the complications involved with decision-making, and equips them with the knowledge that in light of their future, will prove uniquely useful to them. This can be achieved both through written and oral work and by sharing their explanation with the rest of the group. In this sense, the language being used is thoroughly examined and evaluated. Many of the skills being learned are transferable to other didactic units or applicable to personal life, proving useful to the other teachers. That is why there is high level of interdisciplinary work in the TBL methodology if collaborative efforts are made by the teaching staff.

How are students evaluated using this methodology?

Group work as well as individual commitment is evaluated. In the case of individual evaluation, a series of questions can be made elaborating from a text, keeping in mind that the student has interiorised the content through this process. The teacher hasn’t imparted any type of information, and the students feel like they are in control of their own Educational destiny.

What are the benefits for the student?

The implications for the students are much greater: they enjoy the various content, therefore learning better, keeping the material fresh in their minds. They show improved writing, and have the opportunity to educate themselves in a non-competitive/individualistic environment. Not only are the students responsible for teamwork, but for individual tasks as well, bringing their individual responses to the final group evaluation. This way of working drives an “Education in Values” and benefits the atmosphere in the classroom. Not to mention those students who were normally considered “misbehaved”, who were in all likelihood bored during class-time, didn’t feel inspired, motivated, or challenged- those students are now hooked because they can see the value and usefulness in what they are learning. They were used to working in competitive, individualistic ways, creating a limiting “what’s in it for me” mindset. These are the students who feel like they always fail, and have little motivation to go on. TBL leads to a fully collaborative work, in which some competition also exists, the difference being that its final impact on the group is a positive one.

Wrote for Adrian Arcos.

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