There are 50 teachers in a classroom in Cuenca.
—“Does anyone want to present the learning situation that they have prepared?”, the teacher who leads the class asks them.
—“If there are no volunteers, I will have to choose one…”, he warns.
One of the many teachers who is thinking that hopefully they won’t choose her is called Esther Visier, she teaches English at a high school in the city and, like most of the classmates who accompany her in the classroom, she is still not clear what they are the so-called “learning situations”, a central piece in the new way of teaching by competencies ―which according to the education law should be applied since September in all odd courses―, and the theme on which the organized training workshop revolves by the Ministry of Education in which the teacher participates this strangely warm afternoon in November. Visier doesn’t think it’s his problem: “Most teachers don’t have a clue. The learning situations thing sounds like Chinese to them, ”she says. The same is the opinion of the main unions and teachers’ associations. “In general, 90% of the staff are now learning to do this type of thing,” calculates Vicent Mañes, president of the federation of directors of public schools Fedeip. “There is a lot of ignorance,” agrees Francisco García, Secretary of Education for the Workers’ Commissions, “Lomloe’s main deficit is teacher training, a responsibility shared between the ministry and the autonomous communities.” This delay in the effective deployment of the changes implied by the Lomloe is the root cause of the Government deciding last week to postpone the implementation of the new selectivity for one year.
What are these so-called “learning situations” that neither Professor Esther Visier from Cuenca nor many of her colleagues throughout Spain have just understood? The scenarios where competency-based learning takes place: a set of tasks that force students to use the knowledge they have acquired in class to solve a problem, explains Javier López, a Geography and History teacher in Madrid and a teacher trainer.
Link learning to reality
An example, given by Mariángeles Gil, a Mathematics teacher in Logroño, helps to see it. A mathematics learning situation for first-year ESO students (12 years old) in the current context of rising prices could have the purpose of helping kids learn what the percentages that appear in supermarket advertising brochures with food offers mean . “It is not the same to put ‘second unit -70%’ as ‘second unit at 70%’. In the first case, the discount is 70% and in the other, 30%. It may seem obvious to adults, but they have to learn it”. The brochures, he continues, can also be used to analyze other advertising strategies. “Like a 20% discount is announced if you buy 16 units, which may be fine if you buy, for example, boxes of milk, which have a long expiration date, but if they are 16 kilos of mandarins, surely it is not worth the grief”.
The same learning situation can be related to other classes, says Gil: “I can talk to the language teacher and have them analyze what information, what words the advertising uses to induce us to buy. Or with the plastic one, so that they can analyze why many of these ads are in red, what’s in red, and that they do an analysis of the colors and the design of the brochures”.
One can go further: the teacher can ask her students to check if discounts are usually offered on perishable foods, to find out how much farmers earn for a kilo of zucchini (a fact that can be found on the internet) and then go to the supermarket in their neighborhood to see how much they ask of them. “In a decontextualized instruction, I could tell you: if something is worth 30 cents and then it is worth 2 euros and 90 cents, what percentage increase has there been? But I think that in the first way they understand it better, because they are seeing why. And you also make them reflect on what it means for a farmer to receive a certain amount, or if it is better to buy local seasonal products or import them. Through a simple analysis of percentages you are working on the Sustainable Development Goals, you are making them co-responsible for what they buy, and we could talk about why prices have risen now, we could calculate the CPI…”.
Learning situations must be connected to reality, in a broad sense. And the normal thing is that they last several sessions (class days), part of which may consist of master classes or direct instruction. The knowledge does not stop being with the Lomloe the base of everything else. Gil, who also trains teachers, adds that learning situations must have a clear purpose: “I have to know what I want students to learn with them.”
Lack of training for trainers
The general ignorance of teachers towards the pedagogical novelties of Lomloe is due to the absence of massive training programs and a matter of time. The law came into force at the beginning of 2021. And the curriculum decrees – which develop the law specifying what students have to learn in each subject – have been approved by the Government and the autonomous communities throughout 2022, in some cases with the current course already started. When they did the Lomloe, those responsible for the Ministry of Education already knew that the implementation deadlines detailed in the law would be very fair. They decided to do so due to the risk that, if they opted for a slower deployment and in 2023 the government changed, the new executive would paralyze the implementation of Lomloe until he was able to approve his own standard.
The fast schedule, on the other hand, which plans to complete the implementation of Lomloe in September 2023 with its extension to even courses, makes this scenario much more difficult, because it will make it almost inevitable that a change in regulations will require several years to be effective. Which in turn raises the chances that, even if the new government modifies other issues, the educational turn of competences, which most developed countries have opted for, will remain.
teachers with stress
Deadlines are forcing thousands of teachers to do something akin to repairing a plane in mid-flight. Or, in the words of the CC OO Education Secretary, to work “with a lot of stress”. The consequence is that, in many of the centers, the new way of teaching is not materializing, laments María Capellán, president of the federation of associations of parents of students Ceapa: “On the one hand it was predictable, due to the pace at which everything has been approved. But on the other, if they knew how Lomloe had to work since last year, they should have prepared the teachers beforehand, not wait until the last moment”. Those responsible for the Ministry of Education affirm, for their part, that these transitions always last several courses and that many centers were already familiar with teaching by competences.
Amparo Jiménez, professor of Biology at the Músic Martí i Soler Institute in Mislata, in Valencia, agrees that the Lomloe recipes are similar to what many teachers have been applying under other names: “In the end this is about what you have They have to excite children with something, because if not, they are not interested in what a cell is”.
Learning situations are similar to active methodologies such as learning by projects and by challenges, and with service learning (which seeks to improve the social environment of the school), Mariángeles Gil agrees. The teacher concludes: “Before, the focus was on teaching: the teacher gave a master class, the students took notes and then took the exam. Now, the focus is much more on learning: on the students solving problems, challenges, projects. What does the teacher want the students to learn and how are they going to do it through this set of activities?
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