Metacognition is considered one of the most important skills in order for students to achieve success. On a broad level, it refers to students’ ability to reflect on their learning, the process it involves and where it fits into the bigger picture. An often overlooked aspect of this is the extent to which students are aware of how their schoolwork – at any given moment – fits into their “own life project”, i.e their sense of planning their life.
One of the most commonly used metaphors for life is that of a journey, starting at birth and ending – if we are lucky – many meaningful years later. Along the way, we reach all kinds of milestones: we master a home language, learn to walk, go to school, get to study (if we are fortunate enough), find work, start a family, etc. As with any long journey, a typical life consists of a number of shorter/smaller journeys; milestones are not necessarily evenly spaced, some milestones are more significant than others and certain stretches of the road are easier than others. Schooling is one of the most important parts of this journey and, as we all know, plays a significant part in how the rest of this life journey will pan out. Yet, students rarely think of it this way.
The Limitations of “Curriculum” as a Term
Ideally, students are at school for a period of 12 years, during which they are expected to master a curriculum that will enable them to study further, or at least start their working life in a meaningful way. It is, therefore, no accident that most of our language regarding school focuses on the curriculum which must be adhered to by teachers and mastered by students. This is reflected in our language about homework, tests and exams – when we point out what work we will cover, what topics are important and the marks they achieve – and there is nothing wrong with that. But if this is all we do, it is not enough. We all know that school is about much more than just the curriculum. It is also about preparing students for the future and their place in it. And in order to achieve this, it means we need to put the curriculum “in context” – that of a school journey preparing them for life and its ups and downs.
This ties in quite closely to what is intended when people talk about the 6 Cs (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, character, citizenship) for the 21st-century. Helping students master these skills ultimately enables them to step back from the details of the curriculum and start asking questions about how things tie together and what they actually mean for them – not only now, but also in the future. Linking these skills to the metaphor “your life is a journey” will provide students with a tool to see their schooling as part of a bigger picture rather than just a series of loosely related curriculum events that they have to suffer through.
If we only focus on the school as curriculum mastery and we do not (and quite deliberately) stand back and sometimes point out the journey to our students – they will probably never realise this for themselves. And in failing to do so, they will keep focussing on the details and not see tests as stepping stones, exams as steps and school years as milestones – often not a means in themselves but a means to an end. They will fail to realise that in passing their grades they are gaining so much more than just “the curriculum” – they are also gaining skills for the rest of their journey. Some of these, such as resilience and discipline, will be tacit, others such as math skills or critical thinking may be more explicit, but all will contribute meaningfully to their progress.
Curriculum as Learning Paths
If we were to think of the journey metaphor as a useful metacognitive tool for helping students think about their learning, how can we readily make this explicit and tangible? One way is to use the journey metaphor as part of your teaching, for example: using Learning Path(s) in reference to school work rather than curriculum. The use of this metaphor will enable teachers to map all their school activities to various stages of a year-long school journey quite easily. Students will be able to relate to this without any problems and, more importantly, be able to make the connection to their life as a journey and the role that this particular learning path plays in preparing them for what lies ahead.
For those who are looking at ways in which to implement this, it is worth noting that Learning Paths are becoming an increasingly popular interface in e-learning solutions. The benefits of learning paths include the following:
- On a technical (software) level they provide you with the power to create folders to save and share content;
- In addition, Learning Paths provide a more coherent way (than folders) for teachers to manage and track curriculum delivery, and for students to navigate their learning.
ITSI recently launched the most sophisticated version of Learning Paths to date. It enables educators to have complete freedom in creating and sharing content – irrespective of whether e-books, printed books or no books are involved. It can be used as a standalone option or in conjunction with all major platform and classroom solutions.