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East Lothian Extreme Learning

September 14, 2006

Wednesday’s Extreme Learning Meeting was one of the most stimulating I’ve attended in a long time. The meeting was called by Don Ledingham to discuss a P6-S2 Project Approach to learning under the umbrella of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE). You can read more about the proposal on Don’s Blog, and for those who aren’t sure what it means, let me try to explain…

On a typical day, the pupils come into school and follow the timetable that the school has devised for them. They walk from Maths to RE to English to French to PE to… you get the idea. Then they leave, go home, and start the other side of their life… they watch TV, they browse the internet, they go hill-walking, they take part in a competitive sport, they… have a life completely separate from school.

The intention with Extreme Learning is that we should try to tap into the extensive ‘external’ knowledge that the pupils already have and, through careful and intelligent handling, enable children to see the links between their interests and their school subjects. These are not just laudable aims, they are essential if we are to prepare our pupils for the ‘real world’. We keep hearing references to life-long learning, yet are often guilty of teaching pupils to pass exams rather than teaching them to learn. Extreme Learning could go a long way towards redressing this imbalance.

I was struck by the fact that here was an initiative that was pupil centred, teacher driven and fully supported by the council. Nowhere was that more clearly illustrated than when one of the participants asked if there should, perhaps, be pupil representation in the process… and this was immediately seen as an idea which should be considered seriously. How often do we as educators remember to consult with the pupils over something that actually matters — yet here it was being considered at the very earliest stages…

The challenges posed by the Extreme Learning approach to educating our children are many, but if the meeting was any indication, they are not insurmountable. As a next step a wiki has been created for people to discuss these challenges. You can also get a full overview of the proposal there, so it’s well worth visiting.

Alasdair Gray’s words keep coming back to haunt me: “Work as if you were in the early days of a better nation…”  The ‘better nation’ is there to be created as long as the educators and librarians and the powers that be are willing to let it happen… I think that in East Lothian, and with this initiative, we may just be seeing an idea that could have a profound effect on the future of Scottish Education. 

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