We’re always saying we need to think ‘outside the box’ to improve education, but not everyone has taken this quite as literally as at Twickenham Academy, where the Kunskapsskolan Model is being used to stretch students beyond the confines of the classroom.
A chance to explore
Visiting Twickenham Academy was the chance we’d been waiting for to explore the Swedish Kunskapsskolan model in a British context. This comprehensive personalised learning programme – often shortened to KED, thankfully for us novices – is radical in its approach to being student-centred, as several Whole Education delegates saw during our 2012 Scandanavian tour. Now in its fourth academic year, Twickenham Academy was one of the first of four Kunskapsskolan schools to open in the UK under the umbrella of the Learning Schools Trust (LST). So how does it work?
School layout: learn everywhere
Where to start? In the classroom? Absolutely not. Step one is architecture and in KED design, the thinking is literally outside the box of the classroom: every space is for learning.
Twickenham Academy’s KED building has been open for only fifteen weeks. The inner wall of every room is made of glass, making the school feel open. KED architecture demands a huge restructuring of the traditional school building: corridors are widened to allow room for individual learning pods (reducing the ‘wasted space’ of corridors designed for the sole purpose of movement in most schools – single-purpose functionality is so 20th century). For every conventionally-sized classroom, there are multiple box-bedroom-sized rooms where you’ll find groups of students debating an issue or working to solve a problem. Dotted around you also find lecture halls, where students take notes like they’re at university. I talked to a student who said he most looked forward to lectures. “I hear it all mapped out and I can take notes in my own time”, he explained. “Some of my friends don’t like that style, but they can access the work online too”.
Coaching: students at the centre
The concept of a personal tutor isn’t new, but the emphasis placed on this role is crucial to student ownership of their learning, integral to the KED model. Coaches train students to reflect on their own learning. Each student has 15 minutes per week one-to-one coaching time, and through coaching sessions, each student moves forward at their own pace with a holistic idea of how they are improving their education.
Creating timetable space for every student to have a personalised session every week is no easy feat: at Twickenham, every member of staff at the school is a coach. And as it would be impossible to fit all of these sessions outside of lesson time, teachers need to be prepared for students to leave for part of their lesson.
Innovation: the curriculum and beyond
The KED model used at Twickenham has 3 core components:
- Technology-rich and data-driven: Through a Microsoft sponsorship, each student at Twickenham has a laptop, where the EDS e-portal used by all LST schools allows them track their progress and complete tasks towards their next milestone independently –providing the link back to their teacher sessions through clear online guidance and communication routes.
- Thematic curriculum: The project-based learning approach to humanities, the arts and technology allows for deep engagement with themes, focussing on building skills as much as knowledge in specific subject areas.
- Step COURSES: Maths, English, science, MFL and ICT are divided into 40 discrete steps. Clear targets can be set based on these steps and eventually students should be able to sign up to workshops, lectures or labs for the coming week based on the step they are working on.
Student choice in their learning requires careful planning of teacher time and a wealth of resources, which have been built up over more than a decade in Sweden. Recognising the challenge, teachers at Twickenham and the other LST schools are on a journey, moving from prescriptive teaching to student-led learning.
At the moment, LST teachers say they’d like to offer more ‘alternative’ lessons. But with resource sharing and collective planning across the schools, and so many innovators on board, they may well catch up with Swedish schools faster than anticipated. The classroom walls are becoming a thing of the past at Twickenham: how are you breaking them down?
We loved hearing about Twickenham’s journey. If you’d like to know more, check out these links:
For an explanation of the curriculum, click here
To find out more about the Learning Schools Trust, click here
To know more about the architecture of the new Twickenham Academy building, click here