This was first written in October 2009

So, the PLTS. What are they and why would you want to embed them into anything? I’m quite sure that I won’t be surprising many people by telling you that Personal Learning and Thinking Skills are now a part of the National Curriculum. That means they are statutory and that we have to teach ‘em. My school has taken the approach that the 6 skill areas were divided up and one given to each faculty to concentrate on. English got Creative Thinking. N’est pas. So far so good: we dutifully write our PLTS objectives up every few lessons and maybe we’ve even come up with some interesting PLTS based activities in our lessons. But what happens next? Is that it?

Of course the answer’s no. They need to be a integral part of our teaching and students’ learning. Somewhere in the not too distant future, perhaps schools will be encouraged to prioritise equipping their students with the skills they need to interact successfully with the disorienting change that the 21st century is likely to bring. Perhaps the examinations for which students will study will be designed to test their abilities to reflect, work in teams, be creative, manage their workloads, conduct independent inquiries and participate effectively. Perhaps. But until then we are faced with having to juggle the responsibility of making sure that students leave with 5 A*- C grades at GCSE as well as the skills which employers will demand of them as they join the world of work.

To this end, when sitting down to plan faculty schemes of learning, I decided to approach the task of teaching students about magazine production for their Media Studies practical production in a way which not only included, but was actually lead by the PLTS. We saw immediately that if we were to plan each lesson by first selecting an appropriate PLTS objective we would be able to ensure that students not only produced their magazine, but learnt some valuable life skills along the way.

Our first step was to refer to the six skill focuses and select the skills we thought our SoL would lend itself to; in so doing we quickly established that as students would start by researching the magazine industry, the most suitable starting point would be the Independent Inquirer strand. We chose “To be able to identify questions to answer and problems to resolve” and “To be able to analyse and evaluate information” as the most suitable objectives, although many of the others could have worked as well. This then made us consider ways that these skills could be taught with the learning about magazines becoming almost incidental.

The SoL progesses through Creative Thinking, Team Work and Effective Participation as students research, plan and produce their magazines choosing what they need to prioritise each lesson, who they will work with, the best approach to tackle various problems etc. As the project takes shape students are expected to reflect on what they have learnt and set goals and targets for future lessons which require that they become proficient with the Reflective Learner and Self Manager skills.

All this required that students be given a great deal of autonomy during lessons and meant lots of effective planning so that they have all the information they need well in advance. This fits particularly well with they way students approach Media Studies – whether I plan it or not, I can guarantee a room full of kids working on very different projects at very different paces. Of course, if you not only plan for it but actively encourage it, everything runs much more smoothly.

All very well, I hear you say. But does it work?

Well, yes. Every time I have planned (and it does take a lot of planning!) a lesson like this I have enjoyed ‘teaching’ massively more than usual.  Some students in some classes have balked at first. Hardly surprising when you remember that they have got so used to not having to think for themselves and relying on us to spoon feed them. I would recommend starting with a class you feel confident with and try it!

As I’ve been writing this I have been considering whether this approach to learning and teaching would work in every area of the curriculum. Classes of kids all doing what ever they want when ever they want? Isn’t that anarchy? My own children attended a Montessori pre-school and it worked wonderfully well there.

However, I am certain that it is right to try to make it work. Just because it feels scary and messy is no reason not to take the risk. So, how do you solve a problem like embedding the PLTS into the curriculum? By seeing it as an opportunity and not as a problem!