Monday, September 25, 2006

21st Century teaching and learning.

  Posted by Picasa Visiting primary schools one thing becomes clear. They are obsessed with literacy and numeracy teaching and targets. Nothing wrong with this I guess but the downside is that little time, energy or inclination is left for other important learning attributes.

Visiting secondary schools fragmented specialist teaching is still the name of the game with teachers working in splendid isolation helping students accumulate units of unrelated achievement.

In a way nothing much has changed over the years.

Will these students who can read, do maths or accumulate atomized units be successful in the 21stCentury?

Not a chance!

And giving all students personal computers will make little neither difference nor will all the prescribed areas of learning distant experts feel is vital.

Yesterday’s schools are just not good enough for tomorrow’s students.

Tomorrow’s students will need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, team workers and effective communicators; they need to more than to be proficient in basic skills or minimal knowledge – they need to have a purpose in their lives. This means school need to focus on providing learning experiences that, as well as developing self management and interpersonal skills, uncover students’ gifts and talents - areas of potential life long interests.

To achieve such personalized 21stCentury learning is the challenge of the future; to develop student interests and love of learning, for its own sake, through integrated project based learning.

The idea is not new and can be seen in the more creative teachers’ classrooms; classrooms that celebrate students thinking, creativity and artistic expression. When visiting such classrooms it is pretty easy to see , even when the students are absent – students’ questions, theories, ideas, researched studies and artist expressions catch the eye and imagination . When the students are present the difference is even more obvious, such rooms are hives of purposeful activities with students working alone or in groups developing their ideas, making use of modern technology and areas of artistic expression as required.

Such communities of inquiry are possible at all levels of learning but not without considerable rethinking of the ideas and assumptions that underpin teaching. Teachers will have to reassign their time, energy and priorities.

In traditional classrooms (particularly at the secondary level) students typically work alone to complete teachers designed activities, rarely presenting their ideas to the class.

In ‘communities of inquiry’ students’ work in teams of students researching ‘fertile questions’ that attract their imagination and curiosity. Plans are negotiated, research undertaken and idea are finally presented to the class, or better still to the students’ parents.

Studies are chosen carefully to develop in depth thinking. Before starting a study students ‘prior ideas’ are uncovered, which may need to be challenged, and new questions will arise as the study evolves. Currently primary teachers are able to ensure that the various learning areas are integrated as appropriate but ideally both primary and secondary teachers would need to work collaboratively sharing their expertise so as to help their students think of areas that they might not otherwise consider. Most studies will require groups of students researching different areas of inquiry which makes some form of concluding demonstrations or performance important.

This is the opposite to traditional transmission teaching. In project based learning teachers and students work together to ‘co-construct’ learning. Teachers still need in-depth subject expertise but do need to work with other so as to cater for all the areas of interests of their students. To be successful students need to dig deeply into what they are studying and not to rush through the curriculum as is all too often the present situation. Teachers and students need to develop plans and success criteria, provide real time assessment, feedback and assistance as required.

Assessment of the learning can be seen in the attitudes students have towards their learning, how well they have worked with each other, how well they have been able to research, and the quality of their ideas and expressive creations. All these can be discussed with the student but the best assessment will be self appraisal or to be seen in the excitement of the students (and the teachers) to get on with their next challenge. Rooms will celebrate students’ creativity and inform visitors of what the class has been studying but most of all what is displayed will be a source of pride to the students themselves. Examples of student work can be stored in digital portfolios to share with parents and eventually with future employers. Final performances for senior student can be assessed by community experts in their field or by using experts available through information technology.

This kind of learning, as mentioned is not new, and is no more than an extension of how students learn before they come to school and will reflect what will be required when they enter the work force.

It is important not to confuse project based learning with doing ‘activities’. Problem centred teaching needs good teachers to make it work well. It is hard work helping students design appropriate activities and teachers will need to work together demonstrating all the skills and attitudes they hope to develop in their students.

I have yet to see a school make such learning central to the way they work, they do exist, but there are plenty of teachers doing wonderful work in often difficult situations.

Be great to have such collaborative learning environments based on real world projects set up in all the major cities to inspire other to make similar changes.


Anonymous said...

You have obviously pictured a primary school classroom - I have never seen a class environment like that in a secondary school ( except for their art rooms).

Anonymous said...

Schools continue in the 21stC as if the world revolved around the invention of the printing press! Linear thinking, measurement,fragmentation, classification,targets, imputs,ouputs, outcomes, evidence -all based on predictability and control. At least they know the world isn't flat!

Our young students, born into a multi dimensional world of information technology, can access learning, anywhere , anytime, and anything - and in the process they create their own 'personalized' curriculum.

'School is dead' but the teachers haven't noticed it yet even though there are plenty of signs of disaffected students if the teachers ( and their 'experts') opened their eyes.

Learning has escaped the school gates and is running free!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Time for an educational rethink!

If we needed a sign then last nights complaints by the Secondary Teachers Union (PPTA) about the growing violent behaviour in schools must be it.

We need a range of true alternatives for the talented, the less academic and the alienated. As for the rest leave them to it.