Aren’t We Doing It Already?

When Professor Bill Lucas and Dr Charlene Smith wrote the Mitchell Institute’s report The Capable Country: Cultivating Capabilities In Australian Education in 2018, they made a strong case for the global importance of general capabilities in today’s K-10 curricula.

Speaking personally, I’ve re-read A Capable Country several times since 2018 to help me address the practical questions as a curriculum designer on how to explicitly teach and assess capabilities. So, as I plan my 2022 curriculum projects in English and Drama I wonder what the report might now reveal on how best I should manage our return to school in a post-lockdown world?

Where do you start?

You may have noticed how planning, teaching and assessing the curriculum has been packaged together by the phrase learning design. It’s a term particularly used by those creating online learning or forward-looking educational researchers such as Professor Sandra Milligan and her New Metrics teams at the University of Melbourne. Speaking personally, there is a distinct sense whenever I hear the term that designers of learning experiences are particularly interested in

Future-proofing our students so that they will have the skills to negotiate and thrive in increasingly complex global workplaces is a challenge for all educators. These crucial capabilities are often referred to as 21st-century skills, general capabilities, graduate attributes, or transversal skills. 

The Edutech Wiki defines learning design as “the whole teaching/learning experience. It’s a more or less formal description of a pedagogical scenario (also called educational script or storyboard) that may or may not follow an instructional design model. Basically, a learning design describes learning objectives, who does what  (and when) using tools and resources, and outcomes.”

For instance, the Victorian Department of Education shapes curriculum framed by H.I.T.S strategies. 

 And more broadly, all Australian schools address the learning outcomes of the Australian curriculum through 

  • seven capabilities of Literacy, Numeracy, ICT, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical Understanding, Intercultural Understanding, 
  • eight learning areas of English, Mathematics, Science, Health and Physical Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, The Arts, Technologies and Languages and 
  • three cross-curriculum priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia and Sustainability.

Or perhaps as a teacher in South Australia and the  Northern Territory you are implementing the new strategic policy of THRIVE

From the local to the global impacts, from National to State-based imperatives, producing learning designs involve both ‘big picture’ and micro-detailing of particular learning contexts.  Perhaps we should turn to John Hattie again, and his work which has been so instrumental in sharing the thinking about learning by design. After all, his 2021 book is entitled Great Learning By Design.

So, aren’t we doing this already?

Of course, the broad concepts of planning, teaching and assessing students remain broadly the same. However, from my experience, I’ve found that staying in such generalisations prevented me from grasping the power of the dynamic framework involved in designing learning experiences. For this reason, I found it more time-saving (and pleasurably professional) to see that learning design is not the same as traditional concepts of planning, teaching and assessing.

It seemed more logical to see a learning scenario more like arranging a musical score, that is, putting together the tempo, the rhythm, the right key and other dynamics into my facilitating of student learning. It is the dynamic that requires attention. 

By contrast, to continue with the musical analogy, traditional practices of planning, teaching and assessing are more like focusing on one bar of music at a time. There’s nothing wrong with doing so in itself, but it is never enough either for the development of students’ whole-sale learning of outcomesThis is because learning outcomes are not only infused with content but learning principles that sustain lifelong learning, including dealing with the uncertainty of fast-changing global impacts by digital technologies.

For this reason, I choose to design a capabilities playbook approach that devises learning experiences that have three overall qualities:

  1. Immersing learners in the substance and form of learning progressions,
  2. Challenging learners by allowing them to co-sequence learning interactions and
  3. Giving students agency to produce evidence of their own learning.

Looking forwards

In the past when I wrote textbooks, I became dissatisfied by the gap between my classroom teaching and writing curriculum for my publisher.  There was something so neat about organising lessons on a page. So much so that textbooks became quickly irrelevant with what was really being done in the classroom. I felt the same when I was asked to reproduce my textbooks for online learning.

By contrast, I was reminded of the strength of the playbook approach by the Atlassian organisation who prides itself in transforming the culture of their software company through blending an Agile philosophy with plays. Entitled the ATLASSIAN TEAM PLAYBOOK, its minimalist use of protocols, daily rituals and focused decision-making plays, drove the belief that 

At Atlassian, great work is built on teamwork. We found that hiring great talent and using the right tools wasn’t enough. How we worked together, as a team, made the difference.

 In fact, as any sports or performing arts teacher or student can tell you, a ‘play’ requires them to function metacognitively from the outset.  Participating in a ‘play’ means nothing if you don’t learn to read the play and then interpret and apply skills and knowledge you’ve practised in a dynamic, ever-changing, moving game or performance event. 

I reckon this is a much more realistic way of describing the challenge before us in learning or teaching anything. Indeed, it provokes us to view teaching as another form of learning, that is, viewing the teacher as a model of how learning may occur, for the purposes of expediting the learner not having to reinvent the wheel from the beginning.

I still call myself just a curriculum writer. It’s a generational thing. I can’t seem to take on the mantle of learning designer as I’d rather leave that to the younger generation.  However, in truth, I now celebrate the acceptance of a more dynamic way of planning, teaching and assessing curricula, particularly around general capabilities.