The issue for me at the moment is to support schools in their endeavours to make learning skills explicit within the context of learning delivered. Basically, where I’ve got to with the whole skills versus knowledge debate is that I don’t think think that there is a need for us to talk about ‘skills’ OR ‘knowledge’ as we clearly need both. Developing skills for learning requires a context with purpose. Effective learners have both subject (domain) expertise AND skills to enable them to deepen their knowledge and understanding. In addition, they also have the appropriate dispositions that enable them to learn effectively with their peers. This boils down to three essential planning questions…
1. What do I need to know? (knowledge and understanding)
2. What do I need to be able to do? (learning skills)
3. What do I need to be like? (dispositions)
A most excellent colleague gave me this analogy today…”…think about Stephen Spielberg. He has fantastic subject (domain) expertise when it comes to film-making, and he certainly has some superb generic skills around problem solving, creative thinking, analysis and so on. He also has dispositions such as the openness to new ideas, empathy with others and the understanding of human emotions that enable him to employ his generic skills appropriately within his specialised domain. But take him out of his specialist domain of film-making to problem solve the global deficit and he would be a novice, with absolutely no certainty of success.”
New context requires new KNOWLEDGE. The skills and dispositions are, in many instances, generic, but it is the subject or domain knowledge that is critical to the development of expertise.
We need it all.
When I work with teachers all over the country I am able to consolidate my thinking around these issues and the last two weeks have been particularly valuable for me. I spoke in Malvern at a conference about this, with particular reference to the development of expertise (gifts & talents) within a competency-based curriculum and it really helped move my thinking forward. I then visited a fantastic school in Leeds to see the Critical Skills Programme in action and coming up is a presentation at the Curriculum Foundation Conference in Birmingham. I’m hoping that by the end of this next week…
I’ll have my arguments thoroughly sorted. In the meantime, here’s the resource that I put together for the Malvern event. It’s the next step on from the last resource I put together and I am already developing the third version with a greater emphasis on dispositions. If you click on the centre of the booklet, you’ll get it in fullscreen. If you do find this useful (or not, for that matter), I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment or tweet me.