Re-thinking how students learn and how teachers teach is not a new subject. Piaget influenced us to move toward student-centered learning in the 1970's and 80's. I remember taking education courses in the early 70's and also being heavily influenced by Ivan Illich, John Holt and Jonathan Kozol among others. I wanted my students to be self-directed, and I wanted to be the kind of teacher that created learning opportunities that meant something.
The reality is, though, my classroom management often took precedence over my teaching. Having to ensure 30 students were "getting it," I often fell back on tried methods of control: seats in a row, teacher in the front, "let me tell you what you need to know." And as educators, we all made many mistakes–remember open classrooms that changed the design but not the pedagogy? Sad.
Journalism, however, was a different story. With real-life application, student editors serving as mentors for other students, a monthly product (the newspaper), and an audience, the class became for me a vision of what learning and teaching could be. We took great pride that in 1988, our newspaper staff designed our paper with Pagemaker on one of the first Macs, long before our local paper moved to computer-assisted design!
I would constantly ask myself–how can I move this practice of learning to my English classes? I had moments that worked, but overall, I ended up back in the traditional role of teacher directing her students, and students spitting back whatever information I deemed important.
Fast forward to 2002, and my role as Director of Technology at an independent school about to embrace a 1:1 program, and suddenly I could see putting into practice all I believed about teaching. I believed the laptops would truly enable this paradigm shift that I had been unable to accomplish myself in a traditional classroom.
Ah, if only it were that easy.
Time management, differing philosophies, and lack of professional development all played into why our success was spotty. In classes where teachers saw the technology as transformative, the laptops enhanced student learning. In classes where teachers had little time to learn how to teach with technology or simply viewed the laptops as distractions (or had no laptops), fewer changes were seen.
This year, our Head of School asked me to resume my role as instructional tech coordinator, but he asked that I do it full time–with no distractions of other classes, managing of budgets, or technical hardware support. With his support, I wanted to approach technology in terms of 21st century learning, as this was also the year the internet exploded with a wealth of opportunities for sharing and connecting for teachers and students.
What a year it has been. I've outlined many of our successes in earlier posts, and with teachers willing to take huge leaps of faith using some of the tools of student engagement, we've seen strong examples student-centered learning. I've learned much from our great faculty.
I hope next year's Powerful Learning Practice with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson will help take us to the next level. As Sheryl says, "the pace of change is going to demand us to unlearn and relearn."
Our school is also undertaking a shift in our schedule, one that will allow time between classes for students and teachers to meet, share, plan, work, and think. More reflective time for all–if it works as it should.
I am encouraged by discussions from Carolyn Foote here, Patrick Higgins here, and Antonio Viva here, and I am filled with a new enthusiasm, a belief that we can help students face a future of rapid change.This is a long post, but I also want to share some suggestions Viva lists in his post to "catapult innovative teaching and learning in the 21st century":
- Design rooms that are properly equipped and can function as
flexible spaces to support different teaching modalities. Rooms should
not focus on one method of teaching versus any other. Create rooms that
are designed to meet different purposes.
- Rethink traditional scheduling practices – Rooms should be signed
out and used as they are needed by a group of students and their
teacher. Rather than continue to schedule classes as we currently do,
consider creating teaching clusters where groups of teachers have
access to these different rooms when they most need them.
- Create comfortable, well equipped and contemporary faculty work
rooms. A teacher who has their own classroom finds it very easy to
become isolated and close their door and teach. Making spaces available
to teacher groups/teams where faculty can collaborate, obtain resources
and materials, make phone calls and get snacks and good coffee, cold
beverages and talk with one another can encourage colleagues to design
and create innovative curriculum and teaching strategies with one
Much to think about. I love ending the year on a positive note.