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Our world is changing rapidly. So is our workforce. The world that our current students are already encountering is markedly different from that confronting school leavers of previous generations of learners. Research suggests that students leaving school today will have 17 different jobs across 5 different industries over the course of their career. Employers want to employ graduates that are problem solvers, critical thinkers, innovators and exceptional communicators.

In the midst of all this change, how do we provide an education that will allow our boys to face the future with confidence? Schools are faced with a unique challenge – to prepare students for a future that doesn’t exist yet. To meet this challenge, teachers and students must innovate together to create new ways of understanding our world.

The English classroom is a crucible in which new knowledge, perspectives and insights are constantly constructed. Each time we engage with a text, we learn just as much about ourselves as we do about the world in which that text was created. Each time we respond to a text, we are making an argument about how the world should be: who we are, what we value, what unites us and what we cannot countenance. We are enriched by encountering divergent ways of making sense of our experiences and challenged to reassess our assumptions about ourselves and others.

It is this flexibility and responsiveness of thinking that will be essential as our boys encounter an increasingly complex and globalized world. At Stannies we have embarked upon a journey of implementing learning that is tailored to the unique demands of the 21st Century. We are undertaking this project in partnership with Miranda Jefferson and Michael Anderson, co-authors of the recent publication Transforming Schools. In line with their vision for reimagining schools as dynamic sites of knowledge creation, we are embracing the key competencies of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical reflection as cornerstones of education at Stannies.

A team of teachers has risen to the challenge of exploring what 21st century learning might look like in the classroom. This will be an ongoing process of innovation, discernment and refinement until we are confident that we are doing our utmost to provide for the learning needs of our boys. As an illustration of what this might look like, I would like to share some insights from a recent Year 12 English lesson on Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948).

The rationale for the lesson was to explore the social structure and power relations at the heart of both texts. In order to develop student thinking about how authoritarian societies sustain unequal (and exploitative) relationships, we created tableaux that reflected our understanding of each text.

The boys had 4 minutes to devise their tableau. The class then had the opportunity to view the tableau and speculate about what ideas were represented. Key insights that emerged from the students in response to this tableau included:

  • Power is sustained through surveillance which limits the capacity of individuals to rebel
  • Where social classes are prevented from communicating with each other, or deliberately kept in ignorance of each other’s perspectives and values, it is easier to sustain inequitable power relationships.
  • Where exploitation of lower class individuals is sufficiently extreme, their capacity for rebellion is limited through a loss of individual identity.

Following the same procedure, the class identified the following ideas as emerging from the tableau:

  • Authoritarian states are able to mobilise technology to enhance their capacity to surveil, thus further limiting the possibility of rebellion (as compared to Metropolis)
  • Where surveillance is sufficiently intrusive, individuals lack a voice with which to protest against their exploitation by those that possess power
  • As exploitative power relationships are normalised through representation in mass media, those who control the media control the information available to individuals, and therefore control truth
  • As such, language (whether encoded in media or as the speech of the individual) is the essential mechanism through which rebellion is both prevented and catalysed

Although it is certainly possible to arrive at these insights about each text through a range of different processes, what is particularly exciting about using Jefferson and Anderson’s methodology is that these insights are student generated. Student thinking is at the heart of the lesson and students embody their knowledge, taking ownership of it through a creative process. The tableau is a fascinating means of making the thinking of students visible. By commenting on the tableaux, students are given the opportunity to build upon the thinking of others, and thus to create original insights. Ultimately, thinking and learning are shared projects that rely on the authentic contributions of every member of the class.

Obviously this is a discrete example and the long term impact of this style of learning is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, we hypothesise that by positioning students as creators (rather than receivers) of knowledge, they will feel empowered to face the challenges of their future. By challenging them with a range of new processes for thinking, they will become more strategic, agile and flexible in encountering the unknown. Although we are only embarking upon the initial stages of this journey, we are excited by the possibilities for our students of reimagining how we learn.

We aspire to create Stannies men who are able to make sense of a complex world, innovate in search of a more just and sustainable society, and understand fundamentally how to unite others in the quest to honour and protect that which is good. English teachers have the wonderful privilege of walking alongside students as they develop as thinkers and as they develop in character in response to being exposed to widely divergent representations of the world. As the world becomes more complex, English as a discipline becomes even more essential. English at its core is a means of allowing students to have confidence in making judgements of themselves and others, and to communicate persuasively about the significance of their ideas now and in the future.

Foundation for Young Australians, THE NEW WORK SMARTS Thriving in the New Work Order, 2017.

Michael Anderson and Miranda Jefferson, Transforming Schools, 2017.

Group 1 created a representation of Metropolis
Group 1 created a representation of Metropolis
Group 2 also had 4 minutes to devise a tableau. They created a representation of Nineteen Eighty-Four
Group 2 also had 4 minutes to devise a tableau. They created a representation of Nineteen Eighty-Four