Developmental Learning: A New Teaching Method In Our Schools

Say goodbye to rows of desks and blackboards; a new way of teaching has arrived.

I’m sure that anybody over the age of twenty will have snapshot of their primary school days tucked away in their mind. Perhaps it’s the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard, or a wooden metre ruler in the corner, or the monotone alarm pulsing over the crackly speakers, encouraging you to be somewhere that you probably weren’t.

I can picture a colourful times table chart on the wall and feel the hardened chewing gum under my non- ergonomic, dimpled plastic chair. When it came to learning, we used textbooks with answers in the back, grid paper for maths sums, and copied from the board, while taking very little in. This was normal for most of us.

Teaching methods have developed over the past decade, and with the redesign of state-based curriculums to form a new nationalised standard that will rollout into schools over the next couple of years, teachers, and schools as a whole, are adopting a new method of developmental learning to deliver education to our children in a way that is more immersive and individualised.

Your first questions are probably the same as mine — what is developmental learning and what’s the difference with the old way?

Amy Masters, a primary school teacher from Ringwood in Victoria, Australia, is enjoying her third year in the job. She says that the approach doesn’t change what’s being taught, but the way that it’s delivered,

‘The approach is more student-centred, compared with older methods that were teacher-centred. Students have freedom of choice in many areas and are taught to be independent and accountable for their education.’

Mrs Masters explains further that a teacher’s role has developed into that of a guide or mentor, and less of a dictator.

Younger children are now using hands on enquiry-based learning to explore their options and find answers, and move on to research-based learning in later years. They often work on term-long projects in collaboration with fellow students, and they’re encouraged to continuously reflect on their work and set new goals; something that would undoubtedly assist them when they enter the adult world,

‘In traditional teaching methods, students sit exams and produce projects that give an indication of the learning taken place, whereas the developmental approach has students enquire, work and reflect on their own projects, within a certain framework, each term,’ Mrs Masters said.

Mrs Masters adds that these projects aren’t enough on their own to assess a student at a particular level, so there are other mechanisms used, such as observations, running records, moderated work samples and notations. This newfound freedom, responsibility and reflection on their own learning seemingly opens up a new spectrum of possibilities for youngsters as they develop and head into their teenage years, but could this method also lead to behavioural and discipline issues within schools?

Dr. Martin Verhooef, a leading child psychologist from Melbourne, Australia, notes that the new developmental learning approach as a whole is a step in the right direction, however close monitoring of behavioural-related problems arising from the change needs to be closely monitored,

‘While improvements to teaching methods are certainly called for — as with all professions; you need to adapt to move forward — they also need to be watched and periodically reviewed to ensure there’s a displayed improvement in results, as well as ironing out any issues that may arise. Behaviour and disciplinary issues, for example — something can easily go by the wayside in some forward thinking methods — needs to be monitored closely and any problems addressed.’

Verhooef’s comments bring on the question of potential limitations that the method brings with it. Mrs Masters again acknowledges that there are limitations to any method and no ‘one size fits all’ approach, however on the whole, the method of delivery encourages and supports healthy, creative, independent and responsible growth for our children.

It would seem that way on paper, and the research put into this method and the subsequent results to date are garnering positive responses from students, parents and communities as a whole.

A walk through Mrs Masters’ classroom certainly reflected the delivery changes — gone are the rows of desk, clunky chairs and the black/white board, replaced by different open plan areas to investigate, varieties of seating (even the odd beanbag), and information charts on the walls with splashes of colours from the whole spectrum scattered about the room. It made my childhood classroom seem like the first ten minutes of The Wizard of Oz.

This change of delivery hardly seems radical and may present a much- needed change to the archaic teaching method still in use at many schools — a method that has lingered stagnantly in the current system until now. It will be interesting to see the results in the future.

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