Monday, July 29, 2013

Transforming education: Stop teaching and begin learning with your students

Traditional teaching - 1950s
It seems counter-intuitive but students are failing because teachers are teaching too well.
Teachers spend hours and hours of their time preparing lessons for their students but all too often the only person learning anything are the teachers themselves. Even the most attentive and compliant of students do not get what the teachers intend – and worse still researchers have shown that that such teaching does not change students’ minds – and changing minds is the definition of learning.

Let's learn from Sir Ken
Many students learn to play the game and give back to the teachers what their teachers want to hear without really comprehending what it is they repeating. One educator calls this inert knowledge. Others call it 'fragile', 'trivial', or 'ritual'.Research shows that the 'prior knowledge' students bring to any learning situation has been shown hard alter. Many teachers are unaware of their students prior views ignoring educationalist David Ausabel’s advice ‘ascertain what the learner knows and teach accordingly’. All too often the more teachers’ teach the more students’ curiosity, the key to learning at any age, is lost.  Consider who asks all the questions in class.
So what is the alternative?

Stop teaching - start listening
The answer is to observe what appeals to students and then to help then dig deeper ensuring feelings of accomplishment and success and, in the process, create a desire for them to learn more – for their own reasons. Educationalist Jerome Bruner has written that ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Thankfully, curious children are easily tempted!

Once teachers appreciate the importance of tapping  and amplifying their students’ curiosity then they can begin ‘teaching’.
Students are innately curious – it their default way of learning. There  is an evolutionary drive for the young  to make sense of their experiences and, in turn, to express what it is they are thinking or learning – using whatever media is available. Humans are meaning hunters!
And this drive to make sense applies to all areas of learning.
Traditional classrooms are almost obsessive about ensuring their students learn to read, write and do mathematics – the ‘three Rs’  as exemplified by their latest iteration National Standards and the obsessive associated testing. Such an audit culture narrows the curriculum killing the initiative and  creativity of both teachers and students in the process.  Add to this the negative effects of ability grouping or streaming!
The real solution is to place students in situations that create the desire to talk, write and read. The secret is to value the voice/ ideas of each student, to help them express what they are thinking and then, where possible, help them to share their ideas. The same process applies to mathematics. Students naturally involve themselves in mathematical activities from a very early age – counting, grouping, sharing, sorting and predicting. That so many students leave formal schooling with negative feelings about reading and mathematics shows that more of the same is not working. Even worse far too many students leave alienated from schooling altogether.
The art of teaching is ensure that this innate curiosity, this desire to learn, their ‘default’ way of learning is not crushed by formal schooling by our misplaced effort to teach students what ‘we’ feel we think they ought to know
National Standards!

A twenty first century school would not be based on transmission assumptions of an industrial age where schools are based around the metaphor of a benevolent factory, students divided by age, placed in ability groups and taught a range of fragmented subjects. In contrast a twenty first century school would be one where students have access to whatever learning disciplines and expertise they need to complete self-chosen tasks. Teachers in a twenty first century school needs to work alongside their students, challenging them to think deeply, helping them reflect on their ideas, giving them feedback, encouraging them to be creative and to provide them with whatever resources, including full range of information technology. To succeed all students need to appreciate the need to persevere and to realise that any real achievement involves effort and often involves confusion and false trails – there are no right and wrongs.
True learning is to be seen as enlightened trial and error not pre-determined by teachers as is all too common now.
In contrast to traditional standardised schooling the twenty first century requires teachers to personalise, or ‘tailor’ the learning to the needs of their students. In depth content understanding will still be important students but students will need to develop the attitudes and dispositions to enable them to thrive in an increasingly ambiguous and unpredictable world.
This requires a very open ended approach to  teacher planning  to ensure teachers have enough background material to assist students in their own learning. Teachers will expect certain concepts, or big ideas, to be gained but can never be sure what it is  each of their students will finally learn - except for the strengthening of learning dispositions. Teachers , as it says in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, need to ensure all students have the attitudes and skills to be  able to 'seek, use and create their own learning'.

The future will requires an education system based on helping each learner develop their unique set of gift and talents that will  eventually lead them to areas of vocation of personal meaning to them.
To create such a learning environment schools will change dramatically - indeed the word school may be too antiquated to continue using.  Teachers might be better referred to as learning advisers, advisers who are free to call on assistance of any adult that may be of value for the learners to interact with. Another important realisation for teachers is that learners learn best through interactions with their peers while involved in project based collaborative tasks – this is a contrast to traditional transmission learning centred around assessing  only individual student achievement.
Twenty first century schools will need to break down divisive boundaries between home and school and the various divisions of schooling.  Future learning communities ( the word school may itself be seen as a barrier to learners) will be integrated with their immediate environment  ( 'schools without walls')and the world of adult work.
Plan for active learning
In such environments no students will be seen as failures . All students will  graduate able to demonstrate through their actions what they are able to do.
Until schools are transformed  up to twenty-five percent of students will continue to fail –and, sadly, even those deemed as successful will leave without all their talents and gifts developed.
The business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the first country to develop a twenty first century education system will win the future.
For most it hasn't!
 Our current system has no chance but, with  wit and the imagination, we have an opportunity to do so but only if we change our own minds first.
Our job as teachers is to stop teaching what we think they should know and help them learn what they need.

Some great book to inspire change

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