What’s there to know about our school? How does it work? What’s so different about it compared to a traditional school?
The role of the teacher
There are two ways to learn something:
· You tell your pupils why something is meaningful
· You let pupils discover and decide what is actually meaningful
What many traditional schools do today is tell the pupils what they should learn. Pupils have to be quiet, sit still and shut down their brain, and once that is done, the teacher can finally start.
This means that there’s only one person in the entire classroom with serious brain activity: the teacher. Really, shouldn't we try to organize things a bit differently?
What does 'De MET' actually mean?
De MET is dialect and means 'the market'. 'Market' is the English translation of the Greek word 'agora'. Indeed, at De MET we learn from each other and with each other. At De MET there is active bidirectional traffic. Luckily, M E T also stands for 'Measures of Effective Teaching'. Nice coincidence, isn't it?
1. Pupil coaches
At De MET, teachers don’t get to be just 'teachers'. Teachers are pupil-coaches in charge of their families like mothers and fathers are. Coach groups don't exceed 14 pupils. They guide pupils in mixed age groups.
So, the students have a heterogeneous age and a heterogeneous cognition level. This coach group is their responsibility for the whole school year. Pupil-coaches don't face class management stress as pupils don't just sit and wait until they are told what to do. This is a difference compared to many traditional schools.
2. Prefrontal cortex replacement
One of the qualities of a good teacher is to invest in a trustworthy relationship with the pupil. As pupils have a certain age (which is way younger than a teacher), they lack analytical skills. Their “prefrontal cortex” isn’t yet developed enough to take big decisions. And that’s where the teacher-coach comes in.
The teacher coaches replace their pupils' prefrontal cortex and guide them in the right direction. Pupils accept the coach’s help because of their good relationship and confidence.
3. Teacher qualifications
Can you imagine teaching at our school? What does a teacher at De MET look like? What are the requirements?
Teachers at De MET have to make sure pupils love going to school and that they burst of self-confidence. When this is the case, pupils are ready to learn and reach the attainment levels set by the educational authorities. Many teachers choose to become a teacher because they can work in a very structured way. But here, you have to be able to let things go. That’s what we call education at De MET 'agile teaching and learning'. This means you have to adapt your teaching views from day to day. You can never tell how far you will get tomorrow or in a few months because learning is a continuous motion: sometimes it goes fast, sometimes slow. The teacher has to be able to adapt to the pupils' learning process.
4. The role of the pupil
At De MET, pupils have to set their own challenges. They decide what they learn and when during the whole year. The attainment levels set by the educational authorities work like an umbrella. Our electronic progress monitor guards the full coverage of the learning goals. A lot of pupils find out that if they don’t do anything, they won’t succeed. It takes this insight to get there at the end of the year. The pupils take the steering wheel into their own hands. They have to steer the car in the right direction and the teacher is just their driving instructor. Spark their curiosity, and they will find what they need to succeed. Don’t put roadblocks when you want them to go the other way; let them discover this by themselves. That's our motto.
As you probably get by now, the De MET school in Leuven isn’t an ordinary school: it has no rigid rules, no ordinary classes, no classical tests, no useless homework, and no grades. So you must be wondering how De MET works:
1. Possible detox
Many pupils have lost their motivation to learn anything at school. Some of them even think they are too dumb to succeed in anything. Others face psychological and emotional problems because many traditional schools teach them to excel and to perform, already at a young age. These students need to be detoxed. We bring them in a situation where they feel confident and let them believe they can manage things. As soon as they realize they can really accomplish something, they arrive in a phase that they also want to learn new things.
They’ll start setting new goals and new challenges based on intrinsic motivation. And that’s the most important motivation there is. The detox program also teaches them the importance of focus when setting their own goals and when learning.
So, what exactly are these challenges that pupils choose?
A challenge can be anything, e.g. something pupils find interesting to do research about. Starting from there, De MET's model uses the pupils' interests and motivation to encourage them to look further. What do they want to become? What do they have to learn to become that? Through their passion and interests, pupils also learn how to learn. That’s why they can finish these challenges all by themselves (or at first with a little guidance from their teacher-coach).
Since there are no goals enforced by the teachers, how is it possible for pupils to know when the challenge is finished?
Well, there are a few things to consider here. First of all, pupils have to appoint the 'why' of every challenge. 'Why do I want to do this challenge?', 'Why do I want to learn this?' Initially, pupils will say 'I would like to learn about dolphins because I like them.” This is the simplest explanation of a challenge. But after a while, that pupil will start saying: 'I want to learn about dolphins because I want to start my own dolphinarium'. Here, the student is delving into the challenge much more than before. Working with challenges opens up the possibility to work with personalised learning paths for every student. No more methodology for one complete average group, because average pupils don’t exist.
For every challenge, pupils formulate the definition of 'done' when their challenge is finished. They also define their challenges with a learning question and with sub-questions. Most of the time, those learning questions lead to new topics they want to investigate and this way, new challenges.
3. Master classes
You could say it’s not easy for pupils to find that one particular thing they’re passionate about. At De MET, pupils can participate in master classes, completely voluntarily. So, when there’s a masterclass about Johann Sebastian Bach, everyone who likes to go actually goes, and others don’t. This is the right way to encourage students to learn. Coaches will track the number of attended master classes and motivate pupils to attend a minimum number of master classes per year.
Technology is a very important component at our school. Because of technology, it’s possible for every school to offer dozens of different learning paths. Via technology, the coaches can monitor their pupils, witness their progress, give advice, provide feedback, feed-forward, and feed-up. They encourage pupils to make mistakes because that’s the best way to learn. Copying is also an effective way to learn. Look at how others do something.
5. Learning 0.0
We’re all conditioned by our 'old' education system, prohibiting us to think differently. The educational model is over 100 years old. Sure, it was effective … in that time. Now, there’s truly nothing you can’t learn. Students can tap into the collective brain lobe of humanity using their smartphone for free. So, why do many schools forbid this small device? That’s why agile learning at De MET is called “Learning 0.0”. You have to bring pupils and teachers back to the basics of teaching and rid them from all the institutional nonsense that crawled into our educational system many years ago.
6. Formative assessment
So, De MET doesn’t test, nor grade. But that doesn’t mean pupils are completely left alone.
They’re practically haunted by their coach and get feedback, feedforward, and feed-up continuously. Every good teacher knows, even without testing their pupils every pupil’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. So, why should you grade or mark pupils and do hours of grading work, when you know what the result will be?
A day at De MET Leuven
Students arrive at during check-in between 8:30 and 9:30 am, which is neurologically much better than starting earlier. Students can plan their work, talk to their friends of drink a cup of tea and read.
Then, at 9:30 am, students start with a “dialogue” in their own “coach group”, where they debate and talk about certain topics, e.g. recent news items.
From 10:00 am - 12:30 pm and from 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm, students start working on their own personal challenges, they attend a divers selection of lessons, workshops and masterclasses. Pupils have can do up to four hours of sports per week.
And after the lunch break, they have 30 minutes of “S-time”. During these 30 minutes, they can't use mobile devices. Pupils can take play outside, play a game, read a book of be creative.
Between 4:00 and 5:00 pm, students can check out without any homework. However, you often see that students find the motivation to go on with their challenges at home, without being forced to do this. Between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, the teacher coaches consult with each other about the pupils and their progress, learning paths, etc.
Not a school
As the first paragraph already gave away, this school isn’t an ordinary school: indeed, it’s an extraordinary learning community, a learning hub, an inspirational crossroads. De MET doesn't have traditionally organised classrooms with ordinary school furniture. It’s something you’ve never seen before. In the 21st century, the number one skill everybody should have is creativity. This school is designed to stimulate pupils to be creative: students get to create their own comfortable (or not so comfortable) workspaces; they use their creativity to design their desks. The school has all the tools and workplaces available to spark creativity.
Don’t try to renovate education. Reinvent it. Renovation is like changing wooden wheels to rubber wheels. Reinvention is creating flying cars. And that’s what De MET wants to do.
Adapted from an interview with Sjef Drummen in an article by Lucie Renard