10 years ago The Guardian held a competition, “The School I’d Like”, asking children about their dream school. To paraphrase one of the winners comments, “If schools let children feel inspired by what they do, then education would really work.”
How do we recognise the unique strengths of all kinds of learners? How do we “re-engage the disengaged”?
Every innovation in school should start from the school itself, and especially from the students’ perspective. What students say is very diverse and far away from a unique vision of innovation in the classroom. In “the school they’d like”, teachers wouldn’t mind if students had an opinion, desks would leave room for their knees, and children could work outside on laptops when it’s sunny… Students participating in the Finnish project dreamschool have an electronic ´Learning Diary´ where they can collect all their materials with Internet-based (cloud) tools and then use them over multiple school years. In the US, the Utopian schools have no traditional classrooms, and instead flexible furniture that is movable, multi-use, modular and wheeled. There are no bells or seat time, and each student has a flexible schedule that requires them to be present only when they need to be.
Too good to be true? In words of those participating in the Dreamsschool project, “the dream school may not be really a school.” The Traumschule can be big or small, with more or less technology…. What really matters for students is that there are good teachers.
Jamie Oliver created the Dreamschool project, a TV series where the teachers are celebrities who spend two weeks with students who have dropped out of education, or who are in danger of dropping out. Do we really need celebrities to (re)imagine the school? Do students need celebrities to find out that they are good at many things despite being told in school that they would never achieve anything?
My dream school this week has a name: the Specialists’ Academy. The creator – Spanish artist Miguel Gallardo – invented a school where special students are recognised for their special skills. Each student is a specialist. One can count all the white and red cars he sees in a day, another can locate and eliminate all the fluff in a room; another can learn any song after hearing it only once and another is master in completing puzzles. There is a student who knows everything about dinosaurs, and another that cuts her slips of paper by bisecting them in a way only she understands. All these students suffer from autism spectrum disorders. They have different forms of development but, above all, they see and feel the world differently.
Just take the Specialists’ Academy to an ordinary classroom and imagine that all students will be recognised for what they can do best. In other words, where all students will be “specialists” inventing their future out of their own desire, energy and passion.
This dream school just requires inspired teachers; those that you meet every day at school and who, with a little bit of emotional support, can make this dream come true.
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