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The following essay will focus on the Skills Framework introduced by the Welsh Assembly Government into the national curriculum. The essay will discuss the shift into developing pupil's skills across the curriculum rather than subject specific skills. The essay will also discuss how to develop pupil's skills in the core subjects through a series of practical based activities through active learning.
The term 'skill' can be hard to define. Resnick argues that the term can not be defined exactly, but the term is easily recognisable, although it is very diverse (Resnick, L.B. 1987). Resnick also argues that in the world of education, we must try to teach study and problem solving skills. However can these types of skills be related to the different skills across the curriculum? The term 'skill' requires a working definition as the different elements associated with skills are far too vast to be confined to one single, ridged definition.
The Skills Framework being brought into the National Curriculum is linked to the Education Reform Act of 1988, which suggested that a curriculum should prepare pupils for challenges that they may face in adult life. However, past teaching practices prior to the Skills Framework being introduced were very much based around subject knowledge rather than skills. For example, in Science pupils would have learnt about the human heart. Now, under the new Skills Framework, pupils do still learn about the human heart, but the main focus of the lesson is to improve pupils scientific investigation skills rather develop their subject knowledge alone. Emphasis on teaching has now moved from less subject detail, to looking more at 'how' and 'why' and with a more thematic/topic method of teaching not only the core subjects, but subjects across the curriculum (James, B. et al). The need for a Skills Framework was outlined by the Future Skills Wales 2003 Generic Skills Survey which discovered that employers could see gaps in employees skills, including communication and problem solving skills and in particular, Information Communications Technology (ICT) skills (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). As a result of this survey and a previous publication from Estyn in 2002 which also stated a need to improve learning skills within schools, Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru (ACCAC) advised the Welsh Assembly Government to revise the National Curriculum to ensure it became more learner centered, skills based, up-to-date with the 21st Century and far more skills based than just focusing on subject knowledge alone. It was also suggested that the new curriculum had to be inclusive for all learners, something it could be argued that a subject knowledge based curriculum is not. The main points suggested by ACCAC were to implement a curriculum that "focuses on and meets learner's needs, is inclusive and provides equality of opportunity, equips learners with transferable skills, supports bilingualism, is relevant, challenging, interesting and enjoyable for all learners, transforms learning to produce resourceful, resilient and reflective lifelong learners, is achievable and adequately resourced." (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). With these skills based activities implemented into the National Curriculum, it is believed that a pupil's education will be much more fulfilling, enjoyable and successful.
The skills framework is organised into four different sections; developing thinking, communication, ICT and number. It is argued that these skills are needed to not only help learners in schools, but also when they reach adult life and require these skills. The Skills Framework has also been organised so that learners can acquire different skills and progress in these skills from the Foundation phase right through the different key stages and into post sixteen education. Although learners acquire and develop skills set out in the framework as they progress through the different key stages, certain skills are not necessarily associated with a particular stage in in education. This is because some skills that young adults in the upper key stages have acquired may also be demonstrated by learners in the Foundation Phase, all be it at a much simpler level. As learners progress from the Foundation Phase and into the different key stages, their skills develop. This can be viewed as learners begin to work more independently with less support. Learners also choose to work with others to better their education, rather than just casually listening and work with those around them (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government).
Although the Skills Framework has a major influence on the National Curriculum, it is by no means supposed to replace it, but merely act as a guide to help teachers with their planning.
One of the main stages of the Skills Framework is developing thinking. Educators believe that it is important to develop thinking to enable learners to have a greater understanding of what they are studying. As part of the Skills Framework the process of thinking is organised into plan, develop and reflect. In relation to the classroom, this process allows learners to plan out tasks effectively, develop their own ideas, and then reflect back upon their work (Swansea Grid for Learning). The Skills Framework has been put in place to help teachers develop a learners thinking across the curriculum, although it is not possible to cover all subjects within the curriculum (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). Developing thinking is seen as a continuous process. This allows learners to keep improving, as they are constantly planning, developing and reflecting upon their work (See Figure A).
(Swansea Grid for Learning)
One of the most important features of this continuous process is metacognition, thinking about thinking. Metacognition is a process whereby learners reflect upon their own work, and then use this reflection time to improve their learning.
Metacognition is also crucial in allowing learners to progress through the different skills stages.
In mathematics, thinking can be developed through a variety of different problem solving activities. Whilst on school placement, I found that Abacus Maths Scheme had a range of practical activities that helped improve pupils thinking skills. The Abacus Activity book 6, by Ruth Merrtens and David Kirkby features a range of different practical mathematical activities whereby learners work through the different activities and then answer questions at the end. One particular activity consisted of letters from A to K. An example of the worksheet used in this activity can be found in Appendix 1. Learners had to work in groups to identify what number each of the different letters represented. To find the correct answer, learners had to answer different questions such as "I+C=D". To find the answer, pupils had to reflect upon what answers they already knew, for example they may already know that I= 4 and that C= 8, so they could therefore identify what number D must represent. Once learners had identified what numbers all of the letters represented they then had to answer questions such as "What is the total of B, C and F?" (Merrtens et al 2001).
The plenary for this activity also presents an opportunity for learners to use the process of metacognition. Questions such as, "what did you learn from this activity? How did you identify what numbers the different letters were? How did you answer the different questions? What parts did you find easy? What parts did you find hard?" all allow learners to reflect upon their work and how they planned and developed their work throughout the activity to solve the different problems (Revill 2010).
Another method to develop thinking is using a KWHL grid (what learners already Know, what they Want to find out, How they will find out and what they have Learnt). The grid allows learners to reflect upon prior learning to fill out what they already know on the grid. Learners then think about what they might want to find out from the work and how they are going to find this out. Once learners have completed the work, they then reflect up on what they have learnt. The use of KWHL grid very much incorporates the ideas of developing thinking and metacognition as learners must plan what they want to find out, develop this into how they are going to find out, and then reflect upon how they have found out certain information (The Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology (CRIPSAT) 2007).
I have found one of the best uses of a KWHL grid is to assess what learners learn during a science investigation. On school placement I used a KWHL grid during a science lesson looking at different food groups and their effects on the human body. Once the learners had identified what they knew and what they wanted to find out, they then set about writing down how they would find out information. Without prompt, learners reflected on previous lessons when they has been asked to research information from material provided from textbooks and wrote this in their KWHL grids. KWHL grids are not only good at developing thinking skills, but also at as a means of allowing learners an element of control by letting them decide what they want to find out, and how they are going to find out. In the science lesson on food groups, using the KWHL grid also led to pupils working in groups to research the different food groups, and then presenting them back to the class. An example of a KWHL grid produced by a pupil from the class can be fond in Appendix 2. The research and presentation skills needed were skills that pupils had previously learnt by doing a similar task. They had then reflected on this task to use the same skills to find out and share information about food groups in the form of presentations, which also promotes practical, active learning.
In language lessons, one of the best examples that I found whilst on school placement for developing thinking skills and making the lesson more practical and active was through a method of story writing by Pie Corbett. 'The Canal' by Pie Corbett is learnt not by simply reading text, but by looking at pictures that illustrate events in the story. 'The Canal and a sample of pictures used to tell the story ca be found in Appendix 3. This process uses a multi-sensory approach, combing actions with speech which enables learners to learn the story quickly and more effectively (Cambridge Literacy Catalogue 2003). Once learns know the story, they can then use the framework to design their own versions. This develops thinking skills as learners have to reflect upon what language and structure they have learnt from the Pie Corbett story, and use this in their own writing. Learners can also reflect upon the structure of the Pie Corbett text to generate speech within their own text. The next step for learners was to sketch pictures illustrating the events in their stories and then acting them out. This again created an active and practical means of learning, whilst developing learners thinking skills.
The main principle of the Skills Framework is to develop learner's skills which they may transfer to different aspects of life (Revill 2010). By learning these different thinking skills through a range of practical activities, this section of the framework will definitely help fill the current gap in skills suggested by employers.
Another stage of the Skills Framework is developing communication. Communication is a very important aspect of learning as it enables learners to communicate what they already know or want to find out. To be able to communicate correctly, Valette (1973) suggests that learners must engage in a variety of activities such as listening and reading comprehensions and be able to express themselves through speech and writing. Osborn et al (2003) argues that there is increasing evidence which proves that by improving communication skills, other aspects of learning in general will also improve. The Skills Framework organises communication into oracy, reading, writing and wider communication skills such as through ideas and emotions (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government).
In language lessons, a good way to enable learners to communicate is through guided reading activities. The book 20:20 Vision, part of The Navigator series by Harcourt Education et al, offers a range of activities whereby learners read, and then report back answers and ideas to the rest of the group. However, many of the activities in the books do not contain any text but pictures instead. One example is comparing pictures of a town in 1900, with the same town today. Learners must 'read' the pictures, and then answer questions about what they have 'read' in the picture. This helps develop not only a learners reading skills in a way other than reading text, but also their wider communication skills, as they are having to communicate ideas in regards to the picture. Learners also develop oracy skills by answering questions and reporting them to the group. The book also contains written questions to complete at the end of the activity, which will then improve learners writing skills. This example of a guided reading activity incorporates all of the skills listed in the Skills Framework under developing communication. It is also an active and practical activity which encourages learners to communicate with each other.
There are many opportunities for learners to develop their communication skills in science. When studying science, learners must often write clearly and concisely and be confident with oral presentations (Osborn et al 2003). When writing a science investigation learners are expected to communicate clearly using specific language and structure. Learners use the future tense to communicate what they think may happen in an investigation, the present tense to explain how to do carry out the investigation, and then the past tense to reflect upon it. Learners must also explain the results from the investigation in a way which will enable the reader to understand. Oral presentation is also very important to developing communication skills. Whilst on school placement, part of a science lesson required members of the class to prepare a presentation to the rest of the class which would inform them about the different organs in the body. The children worked in groups to research a particular body organ, produce a fact file and then prepare questions ready to present to the class. This activity developed the children's communication skills by allowing group members to feedback information that they had researched to the rest of the group. The children then communicated through writing by recording the information they had found out into fact files. The template given to pupils to produce the fact files can be found in Appendix 4. The groups then had to prepare a presentation about their chosen organ to the rest of the class. This allowed for communication within the groups, as the children sorted out what would be said and who was saying it. The groups then presented their information to the class, again drawing on their oral communication skills. After the presentations the rest of the class had to answer questions from the group. An example of the questions asked by the pupils can be found in Appendix 5. This again improved communication skills as pupils were able to answer questions with confidence, in front of the whole class. This science based activity therefore helped to improve and develop the children written and oral communication skills.
In mathematics, learners use mathematical vocabulary when working with others. Learners also use a variety of written methods for communicating data such as diagrams, graphs, tables and symbols (Mathematics in the National Curriculum for Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). At Key Stage 2 level, learners are given opportunities to their reading skills in mathematics by interpreting graphs and diagrams, and then explain the data either orally or in written format. Another feature of developing communication skills in mathematics at Key Stage 2 is to "visualise and describe shapes, movements and transformations" (Mathematics in the National Curriculum for Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). Whilst on school placement, I carried out a mathematics lesson based on 2d shapes. Over the course of the lesson, the children learnt the names of different 2d shapes, what they looked like and if they were a regular polygon, irregular polygon, or not a polygon. As a plenary activity I arranged for the children to sit back to back in pairs, one facing the whiteboard. The member of the pair not facing the whiteboard was given an individual white board, on which they could write. I then wrote the name of a 2d shape on the main whiteboard. The child facing the board had to communicate with their partner what the shape was by saying if it was a regular polygon, irregular polygon, or not a polygon and how many sides the shape had, but could not say the name of the shape. The other member of the pair then had to interpret this information and draw what shape they thought it may be on their own individual whiteboards. This activity helped to develop communications skills as one member of the pair had to interpret what they were reading on the board, reflect upon what they had learnt about polygons from the lesson, and then orally describe to their partner the information, so that it could be easily interpreted by their partner, who would then be able to draw the correct shape. This activity was done more than once so that both members of the pair had an opportunity to describe the 2d shape.
The importance of developing communication skills is critical for all learners. Some researchers even suggest that there is a clear relationship between communication skills and having a positive relationship with other peers as well as achieving academically (Brigman et al 1999). It is therefore essential that subjects across the curriculum incorporate the development of communication skills to enable leaners to develop both academically and socially.
Another part of the Skills Framework is developing number. Following research over the last twenty years it is apparent that numeracy involves more than calculation work, it also encompasses a learner's ability to use number accurately including working with shape, measurement, creating graphs, and then using them to explain data (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). Although using number is mainly a mathematical skill, number can also be used in a variety of contexts across the curriculum.
In Science, number is often used in scientific investigations. A good activity to involve number in science is to investigate how the heart rate changes with exercise. Whilst on school experiences, the children recorded their resting heart rate over a period of 30 seconds, using a heart monitor linked to a computer. They then interpreted the results from the graph to give their resting heart rate. The children then ran around for five minutes and then once again recorded they're heart rates. Once they had interpreted the results of the graph following the exercise, they could then compare the two graphs to work out the difference between they're resting heart rate and heart rate after exercise. This activity helped to develop the children's number skills because it allowed them to gather information from a graph, compare and interpret data and accurately measure their heart rates using suitable equipment (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government).
Normally, you would not associate developing number with work in language. However, there are a number of activities which incorporate developing number into language lessons. When doing instruction writing, learners develop number along with their language skills. For example, when writing a recipe, learners must use number not only to sequence their writing, but also to quantify the ingredients. Whilst on school experience, the children were firstly given a recipe cut up into different pieces and jumbled up. They then had to put the recipe back into the correct order. This developed the children's number skills as they had to sequence the order of the recipe from the first instruction to the last. After the children had done this they then had to write their own recipes. An example of a pupil's recipe can be found in Appendix 6. Before they began writing the instructions to the recipe, the children had to list the ingredients and what quantity of the ingredients should be used. This again helped develop number because the children had to "choose and use everyday units of measurement" (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government).
In mathematics it is obvious that the subject helps to develop number skills. However, it is still important to ensure that activities are practical and enjoyable to help learners develop their number skills. One enjoyable, practical activity to help learners develop their number skills is to play multiplication bingo. An example can be found in Appendices 7 and 8. In the activity, each child is given a bingo card with multiplications of six and seven on them. The teacher has cards with times tables on them, for example the six times table and seven times table, but with a blank answer. The teacher had to read out each calculation, and the children would have to mentally work out the answer, and then check if they had the number on their bingo board. Like in normal bingo, the winner was the one to cross off all of their numbers first. I found this activity to particularly enjoyable with the children while on work experience. The activity also helps develop number as it allows learners to "identify suitable calculations to get the result needed for the task" (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). The use of a calculator to allow the children to check their answers could also be incorporated into the activity to help develop number skills.
Developing number is very important to a learner's development in all aspects of life. Being able to use numbers is a global activity which brings together people from all cultures. It is therefore essential that learners develop their number skills not only by calculations and formulas, but as a means of solving problems and learning about the world (Sharma 2010). The Skills Framework will help to develop number in a way which helps learners to develop their number knowledge and skills across the curriculum, and not limit the development to mathematics.
The Skills Frame work also has a fourth stage, Developing ICT. It is essential that learners today have good ICT skills, as it was one of the main skills gaps pointed out by employers in the Future Skills Wales 2003 Generic Skills Survey. Developing skills in ICT has two strands; "finding and developing information and ideas and creating and presenting information and ideas" (Skills Framework for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Assembly Government). It can be argued that all subjects across the curriculum, not only the core subjects incorporate these strands. For example in nearly all subjects, learners will have researcnhed information using software programmes and also the internet. Learners also use ICT to create and present information such as word processing their work, or creating graphs to show results from an investigation. Developing ICT skills is more than just teaching learners about ICT. Rather, it helps learners develop their knowledge of different technologies, add how these technologies maybe used to improve and benefit their learning. Also developing ICT skills will also greatly benefit learners from the very beginning of their journey through education and on into adult life, as ICT skills have become almost essential in modern ways of living.
The Skills Framework introduced to into the national curriculum by the Welsh Assembly Government has been incorporated as a means of improving and developing skills that are currently needed not only in Wales, but the rest of the United Kingdom. By introducing skills into the curriculum such as developing thinking, communication, number and ICT will help learns to develop essential skills needed not only in education, but also later in adult life. It can also be argued that these skills will also help a learner improve both academically and socially. With the introduction of the Skills Framework into the national curriculum, we are now beginning to see a shift from a very much subject based way of teaching the curriculum, into a more skills based method. I firmly believe that in the future the shift into more skills based teaching will become even greater, with teachers focusing far more on the Skills Framework, and then planning the curriculum around it.