Sunday, December 05, 2004

Basic beliefs about teaching.

We now know enough about learning that no student need fail if we changed our minds first! This assumption has the power to change education as we now provide it. All students, given the right task, enough time and appropriate help can achieve far beyond current expectations. Creative teachers, along with coaches in area as diverse as sports and the arts, have proved this. That we do not put into place what we know is called, by one writer David Perkins, author of the Smart School, the ‘knowledge action gap’!

All students have their own personal voice, experiences and latent set of talents that need to be acknowledged. Schools to realize these would need to personalize learning by providing all students with challenging learning experiences and their own individual educational learning plans. It can be done. To read about schools that have achieved this at the secondary level read ‘The Big Picture’ by Dennis Littky.

This personalization of education alters the role of the teacher into one of a learning coach or mentor. Students will always need positive relationships with others to assist them with the process of self realization, even though the content is readily available from the World Wide Web. The relationship will be one of a master / apprenticeship. Teachers however would need to appreciate that many students will surpass their knowledge base but, even when this happens, the mentor role remains. Ideally teachers and learners work together to help each learner construct his or her own learning.

Teachers, along with helping the students appreciate the range of talents they may have, also need to ensure students gain the appropriate set of personal values so as to be able to make the best choices they can, as well as ‘learning how to learn’ skills. And, along with having the courage of ones convictions, students need to appreciate that to achieve ones best requires perseverance, effort and practice.

This personalized learning is a direct contrast to the current ‘one size fits all’ secondary schools. It will require, not only a new mindset by teachers, but also the development of learning environments that allow students access to a range of teacher and subject expertise. Helpings students see connections between diverse learning areas will be a valuable future skill. Working collaboratively with groups of students and teachers will also be part of the mix, as will moving out into the wider community to both learn from and contribute to.

If this is realized schools will become learning organizations intimately linked with their communities and the wider world. The new information technology will make this development inevitable – it will only be matter of time. Schools will need to change or become increasingly irrelevant.

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