School and structure

pexels-photo-352035Subject choice:

Let’s, for a moment, forget about the way schools “structure” the day (according to subjects, levels, phases, …).

Let’s imagine a school structuring the day according to subjects, but also themes and skills they want their learners to develop. When I say “skills”, I am talking about transferable skills. Even though we want our learners to have good research skills and a solid knowledge base on which to evaluate ressources, we don’t necessarily need them to master “pure content” anymore: what we need to share are the skills necessary to acquire new content and new skills so they become independent learners with tools allowing them to “reengineer” themselves whenever necessary in their future career.

In a completely new education system, teacher could therefore work alongside a cross-curricular framework (with embedded multiple articulations) allowing for flexibility, creativity, communication and collaboration. The “units” on offer (the students would choose what they want to study, but the choice would be based on an offer developed by teachers or mentors) would combine key subjects and 21st century themes and skills (see below). Teachers would have to make sure that the students’ individual “roadmaps” cover all key subjects by the end of the school year (students would have to be assessed in all key subjects all year around and in all essential skills at least twice a year). The list of essential skills below come from the 13 Essential 21st Century Skills for Todays Students list put together by Envision (their list is already summarising a number of other essential 21st century skills lists); I however reworked the list to give it a hierarchical structure: I ended up with 4 skills that we can subdivide to make them even clearer. For more details about the skills listed below, go to New skills.

Essential skills: 

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  1. Oral & Written Communication Skills
  2. Flexibility & Adaptability
  3. Mindfulness & Global/Cultural Awareness


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  1. Leadership & Initiative
  2. Leading Oneself 
  3. Leading Others 


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  1. Problem Solving
  2. Imagination, Creativity & Innovation
  3. Information & Technology Literacy


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  1. Social Responsibility & Ethics
  2. Civic Literacy & Citizenship


What could a day in our new school look like? Ideally (if we forget how complicated the logistics might be), we could imagine a school where students would turn up for whichever “unit” they want to study, whenever they want to study and for whatever subject they would be willing to study at that specific time. Teachers  would be present at all times (with normal breaks during the day) and would support students individually; students would work at their own pace and would follow an individual tailor-made programme (that could also be supervised by older students who are trying to develop their own leadership skills). Different levels would be offered within the class/unit/subject at the same time. The whole system would be about “connecting” students depending on what it is they want to study/achieve: Grade 10 students could support Grade 6 pupils working on nuclear fusion or Quantum mechanics and they would probably learn a lot more from their peers than by following traditional teacher-led lessons…                                                                                                         pexels-photo-247760




As mentioned earlier, teachers from various subjects would work together on a particular theme/topic/unit. To make sure this is working, units could also be advertised at the beginning of the school year, students would sign up for them and groups would be organised afterwards. The idea is this: the school would offer a number of cross-curricular units based around core themes and/or the school would ask students to develop projects themselves (teachers would offer individual help, material, etc.), but the students would have to get in touch with each other (with maybe one leader for each project = project-based units with one project leader).

For example:

The core skill is “Global/Cultural awareness”. The skills students have to develop are critical thinkingICT literacy, social and cross cultural skills.

The programme/unit:

Step 1: French and History teachers get together. The project = an exhibition (in French) about the way the French revolution developed, the causes, the main actors, etc. followed by a reflection (in English) around “revolutions in the world in 2018: root causes and solutions”. 

Step 2: Project (embryo) shared with the students via Google Classroom (or another learning platform).

Step 3: Students sign up or rather apply for 3 “roles” for example (various roles like project leader, French language specialist, history specialist, etc.).

Step 4: Groups are selected (based on applications, willingness and skills) and the students start sharing via a learning platform (Google Classroom as a starting point).

Step 5: Teams decide on their own timetable (when they meet, where, on their own as a team, with or without teacher’s help, etc.: each team would have to be limited to a minimum and maximum of hours per week). They would organise the process from A to Z.

Step 6: The students within the team decide on digital technology to be used; roles and responsibilities also have to be distributed among them. The process would have to be repeated for various projects (maybe 4 per term and 4 from different subjects like science, humanities, mathematics, etc.).

Step 7: The students would get feedback as a group and would be assessed according to skill development rather than on a pre-existing grid handed out by some external organisation (“gamification of learning”).

Step 8: Students choose their next cross-curricular project/unit and start again from the beginning.

Now, of course the system developed briefly above is not easy to implement. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome. For example:

  1. Assessment that is consistent and fair across such diverse cross-curricular paths is extremely difficult to achieve. 
  2. Finding collaboration time is very difficult at best: it might be achievable in small scale private schools, but in big international schools, it would be very difficult to achieve. 
  3. Schools would need practical real-world solutions to achieve was is briefly developed above: the purpose of this blog is to offer new ideas, not fully functional systems that could be implemented within a few weeks…

This being said, I really do hope that the ideas listed above might encourage teachers and school leaders around the world to rethink the way we teach and the way we perceive and organise learning in our schools.