I read recently that Finland is redesigning their approach to education by replacing teaching by subject with project based learning. (Read an article here)
This means that rather than the students’ day being a procession of disconnected subjects which appear to have no relevance to each other, their learning will be based on the study of a project and all subject matter, skills practice and learning content will be part of it, connecting subject matter in a meaningful way.
This project based approach to learning will be familiar to teachers who have been in the profession a long time, especially at Primary level. It’s also an approach which many home educating families use very successfully.
Its success is based in the fact that what they learn is more relevant to the child especially life based skills. And this relevance helps to keep children engaged, whereas being told to study indiscriminate bodies of knowledge or content, that appear to the children to have no connection, can switch them off to both the subject and education itself.
For example, children may have no interest in learning the names and dates of politicians down the centuries, but they will probably be aware of the impending election. A project based around that can include some of that history, discussions on policies and how they shape society, the right to vote, ecological issues, budget considerations, etc thus covering a whole range of subjects. This relevance to life outside school makes learning more purposeful and helps maintain motivation.
Many home educators use this approach for that very reason. They develop the children’s skills and knowledge from projects the children themselves initiate. When a child is learning through a topic that interests him, the learning is more likely to be enjoyed, be more meaningful and therefore more likely to be retained, and children also remain interested in learning itself.
Interest-led or incidental learning may appear to be a rather unstructured, unfamiliar approach to those who are used to an objective led approach. But objectives which have no interest to the child are unlikely to keep them engaged with learning. This will eventually impact on their attitude to education in general. If it’s the only approach they know and goes on for years, as schooling does, it’s miraculous that youngsters manage to sustain an interest in their education at all.
Yet home educating families find this interest-led approach works really well, even when it comes time to study in a more structured way. Children remain engaged with learning because they’re interested, they increase their skills from their own desire to do so, and they have a better attitude to education in general. So when a more objective-led approach is required – maybe at GCSE time, for example, they manage it themselves and motivation is easier. Most home educated youngsters achieve good grades.
But the most influential impact is that they haven’t been disengaged from learning by irrelevant subject content that’s disconnected from them and real life.