International College Hong Kong
Oct 04, 2016

Student Achievement, Adaptive Expertise and the 5+1 Model

Since 2013, we have adopted what we call the 5+1 Model at ICHK. Based on the insights of five thinkers working in education and beyond, but taking its inspiration more widely, the 5+1 Model gives guidance to our teachers about how best to engage with pre-teen and teenage learners so as to boost their chances of success and to place student wellbeing at the centre of school life.

More information on the specific theories and research that inform the model can be found on our website. What follows below is a rationale for its paramount importance to the culture that makes our school different and special.

To my mind, the basis of any worthwhile appreciation of schools and schooling in the 21st century must recognise that we know a great deal more about learning – and how we learn – than we did, even as recently as ten or fifteen years ago.

Progress can be attributed in large part to two sources: more comprehensive context-based research in schools and substantial advances in technologies providing insight into brain functioning.

Taken together, these form the foundation for what have come to be called the ‘learning sciences’.

The emerging body of work generated by research in the learning sciences should be directing the working practices of all schools. Sadly that is not the case, as is made clear by a recent review of secondary education published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The review, The Nature of Learning: using research to inspire practice (2010), serves both to establish the fault in schools and to suggest ways in which they must be redesigning themselves, if they are to offer ‘learning environments’ that provide adequately for student success.

The review’s executive summary notes, “the research base on learning has grown enormously but many researchers observe how inadequately schools tend to exemplify the conclusions of the learning sciences”.

Above all else, what is missing in schools, the OECD argues, is a sincere recognition of ‘the key importance for organisations to develop in learners “adaptive expertise” or “adaptive competence” i.e. the ability to apply meaningfully learned knowledge and skills actively and creatively in different situations.’

Traditional schooling, with its emphasis on memorization of knowledge for retrieval in exams, has never encouraged this ‘adaptive expertise’. And while many schools will now claim to have initiated new and more creative experiences for students, the truth is as the OECD notes: many of these adaptations are typically shallow and tokenistic.

To have true impact, to nurture genuinely courageous and innovative 21st century learners, change at school level must be authentic and systemic. It is not enough to gesture towards creativity, collaboration, resilience, leadership and team awareness through isolated curriculum ‘events’ or through ‘opportunities’ for a limited number of students (almost always the ‘usual suspects’ who are already thriving in an academic environment).

Rather, the conditions that encourage these vital skills, attitudes and attributes should be fundamental to the culture of the school. They should be felt and lived by not just all the students, but by the whole school community.

This is where the 5+1 Model finds its value. It is an attitudinal and approach-based framework that establishes the means to build and sustain a truly nurturing culture for school age learners.

It impacts generally on the way we view our students: as young people situated in a very particular phase of their lives. It focuses on their mindsets, their courage and endurance to learn, the curriculum we offer them, and the ways in which we encourage communication and interaction in the school.

In my next few blogs, I will provide a simple sketch of its provisions and tie these to some of the themes that emerge from the OECD’s six ‘transversal conclusions’.

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