How did you learn in school? Through lectures and note-taking? Memorizing times tables? Reciting the alphabet? I bet we can all still conjure up a few lines to a song or nursery rhyme we learned in elementary school, but is this how we want students to learn today? Beijing City International School's (BCIS) most recent Parent As Learners (PAL) workshop led by Julie Lawton, Head of School, and Sally Richmond, Elementary School Principal, delved into the principles that inform the learning approach at BCIS.
The workshop, titled Debunking the Myth of Rote Learning, was an opportunity for parents to learn about the thinking and concepts that drive learning at BCIS. This began by an exploration into the purpose behind rote learning and meaningful learning approaches. The focus of rote learning is the retention of specific information to be tested in an exam, where the same information is taught to all students through repetitive tasks. Whilst rote learning can be useful in some contexts, as parents of young children will know, songs and nursery rhymes can be very useful for speech and listening development, this approach contrasts with concept-based meaningful learning employed at BCIS. Concept-based learning equips students with the ability to understand ideas and develops their capability to connect and apply their understanding in new situations. At BCIS, personalized learning experiences, applicable skill cultivation and knowledge sharing form the backbone of this approach, with assessments occurring both in personalized and project-based form, and standardized testing when required. The world we live in is constantly changing and developing, to thrive in such an environment, students must have a transferrable, holistic skillset. During the workshop our presenters highlighted the World Economic Forum's "Ten Skills Needed in the 2020 Workplace", where critical thinking, cognitive flexibility and collaboration with others lead the list, and creativity shot up from being ranked tenth in 2015 to third for 2020. Ms. Lawton and Ms. Richmond explained that as the world outside changes, so too must our curriculum evolve to best prepare and equip students for an uncertain future where technologies such as AI and automation play a bigger role.
Whilst this workshop didn't seek to completely dismiss all rote learning, however, it opened up a conversation on the balanced approach taken at BCIS for each individual student. Parents were given the opportunity to discuss BCIS' approach with the leadership team who write and plan the curriculum, gaining a greater understanding of their child's learning and development.