The purpose of education is to provide opportunities for all children to meet their fullest potential. That’s not happening. The dropout rate in the United States is higher than ever. More children are left behind now since the law No Child Left Behind. Now we’re Racing to the Top expecting all children to be at grade level by 2014.
Schools are designed the same way they were hundreds of years ago. The teacher is delivering instruction and facts very similar to the lessons they taught with an overhead projector or chalkboard. Schools were designed after the factory model starting in the 1800s. Grouping by age meant a teacher would have more control over their classroom like a manager in a factory behind closed doors. Standards were developed so at each grade level, students at one age would learn skills and attain specific knowledge that would prepare them to move to the next level. Just because one child is at a five year level doesn’t mean that all five year olds think alike or have similar prior knowledge.
Each child learns at different rates, and has different learning styles and intelligences. One six year old may be reading and writing fluently where another has never had the opportunity to read at home nor owns books and may not even know the letters of the alphabet. Since No Child Left Behind legislation, instruction is more teacher directed with the focus on increasing scores. Textbook companies created content that taught to the test. Several of the textbook companies own or are closely tied to the testing companies.
My dream is for every child to be in control of their own learning. The purpose of education needs to shift to the learner learning in any environment.. Now with digital textbooks, online courses, Web 2.0, social media, and access to everything a learner needs at their fingertips, the purpose of education is changing.
We cannot continue to deliver instruction feeding students facts. We need to rethink how to structure learning. Does it have to be at a school? What if students could review what they need to learn by the end of the year and collaborate with their teacher, peers, and parents to design real-world engaging and innovative activities? Students should be able to assess their prior knowledge and be able to challenge a class so they move at their own speed.
Let’s redesign schools into learning centers similar to Reggio Emilia schools. Teachers as observers and co-learners. Students ask questions that mean something to them. Everything is inquiry-based. This approach can be adapted for K-20 even if you base it on standards. Students can learn at a higher level if they are motivated. Look at collecting evidence of learning in an ePortfolio posted online and showcasing projects that mean something to the world so students celebrate what they know and do. We can bring joy back to learning and create amazing citizens who collaborate on global projects.
First posted in the Winter OnCUE Journal 2011
“Many of our schools are good schools, if only this were 1965.”-Louise Stoll & Dean Fink
The world is changing. Today everyone is connected to each other with information instantly at your fingertips. Everything is changing, that is, except schools. Teachers and administrators are integrating technology by adding interactive whiteboards, instant response clickers, and even 1:1 laptop programs. However, one glance into most classrooms, you would find very little has changed over the past 30 or more years. Education still mainly involves teachers feeding information to students to cover the curriculum in preparation for a standardized test. 21st Century teachers involve everyone in the community in their children’s learning.
Changing the learning environment takes more than adding technology to the mix. It means bringing in the real world, involving the school community, and changing the learning environment so our children have the skills they need to compete in the global economy. Some of the resources we had in our homes 30-40 years ago include:
- Television without remotes
- Landline phones
- Records and maybe 8 track cassettes
- First personal computers with less than 128K owned by very few
- No Internet or maybe a select few had email
Today, most children, even those who may be at-risk, have cell phones. Many of these cell phones are Smartphones with the ability to connect to the Internet, text messages, listen to music, and even watch TV and movies. The power of these Smartphones is thousands of times more powerful than what we had with multiple devices 30 years ago.
Culture influences student learning more than even formal learning with easy access to cable television, music, video games, cell phones, movies, and other technology. Before and after school students connect to each other and virtual places that transform them into worlds we have no control over. The classroom can no longer be separated from the real world. Educators need to find ways to make learning relevant and applicable to students’ real world so that they are influenced by intellectual information rather than simply the pop culture of today, which has changed drastically over the past 30 years. [Johnson, B and McElroy, T. 2010]
Authentic Relationships with the Community
Teachers have been and many still prefer working in an isolated environment. The classroom is their domain. The teacher who prefers working in this situation may lack the confidence they need to engage in authentic conversations with parents and others from the community. The classroom door is literally closed to the world. The 21st Century teacher involves everyone in the community that believe in their children and want the best for them. This open and inviting teacher welcomes dialogue, builds authentic relationships with all key members involved, and sees this as an opportunity to develop classroom support for their students and themselves. Authentic relationships are built upon respect between all the members of the school community. Each member has responsibilities in developing and nurturing these relationships. All key individuals are important because of the experiences and abilities they bring to the educational community. It takes everyone in the educational community (the village) to produce an intentional relationship.
Opening up the classroom and inviting the community to be involved with what is happening in the classroom is new for many of our teachers. Even our newest teachers may not have learned these strategies in their teacher education programs. Change is scary. This administrator can build the relationships with the community first by promoting their school and its goals. The administrator can reach out to teachers, leaders, businesses, parents, and other stakeholders to encourage their involvement in designing a shared vision for the school. Everyone needs to voice their hopes and fears in a risk-free environment. A shared vision gives all stakeholders a sense of ownership and feeling of pride in the outcomes. Asking a business or organization to participate in students’ learning activities may open doors that lead to new doors.
You never know what could present itself if members of the community realize they could help their school. Some ways might include:
- a plot for a community garden
- mentors and tutors for the after-school program
- career day
- author book talks
- technology support
- offering prizes and rewards for events
In turn, students could participate in community service learning projects:
- reading to young children
- maintaining the garden
- teaching technology to seniors
- being a docent for an exhibit
Bringing Parents on Board
Today’s families have also greatly changed compared to 30-40 years ago. There are extreme pressures on families with the economic concerns and other demands of today’s culture. The number of working moms has doubled from 30 percent in the 1970’s to almost 60 percent today. Just to keep the family together means that Americans work 160 hours more per year than they did 20 years ago. With the economic conditions, some parents are out of work and having difficult times paying their bills. On top of that, many students live with one parent, a guardian, or two working parents. Parenting is even more difficult when you consider the gap between parents and their tech savvy children.
The 21st century teacher can initiate new types of relationships with their students’ parents. This teacher contacts each students parents or guardian to learn more about their child, their hopes and dreams for their child, and how they can work together to guide their child to success. They become a team that is a collaborative support system that keeps a close eye on the progress of their child. The school can have an online portal that parents can access to check on homework, grades, and projects. Since face-to-face meetings may not be possible with parents busy schedules, teachers can forge a connection with parents in a virtual environment. Teachers can connect using a variety of tools such as setting up a website or wiki, a newsletter, a contact form, chat, email, IM, Twitter, blogs, and even providing their cell phone number. In this instantly connectability world, parents and teachers do not have to be strangers.
Johnson, B. and McElroy, T. The Changing Role of the Teacher in the 21st September 2010. Vol. 7. No 9. Teachers.net. Online. Retrieved September 20, 2010. http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/dr-brad-johnson-tammy-maxson-mcelroy/changing-role-of-the-teacher/” target=”_blank”>http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/dr-brad-johnson-tammy-maxson-mcelroy/changing-role-of-the-teacher/
Teachers only teach what they were taught. Most teachers were taught traditional methods of direct instruction. Theorists like Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky focused on students being more responsible for their learning. Papert focused on constructivism where students make learning happen. Montessori focused on preschool children learning through play. The Reggio Emilio approach, started in Italy after World War II, encourages preschool children to proactively participate in discovery learning while adults chronicle their progress. Bruner focused his research on discovery learning where students are encouraged to learn on their own through action and experience.
Each student is unique. Students learn at different rates and have multiple learning styles and intelligences. (Garner’s Theory of Multiple Intellligences) When you look at how we teach, most teachers are still at the knowledge or remembering level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. (Andrew Church revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy below)
Teacher-center vs student-centered classroom
|Factory model||Inquiry model|
|Single Subjects and
grade level focus
real world applications
|Focused on Product||Focused on Process|
|Process- and product-oriented||Product-oriented|
|Short time on each concept||Block scheduling and
cross curricular activities
|Isolated teaching and learning||Collaborative activities for
students and teachers
|Rote knowledge||Experiential knowledge|
Students can be more involved in the decisions of how they learn and what they learn. If they are aware of the standards and tests they need to learn, they can even help teachers design activities that engage them and help them understand the concepts. Most students zone out after 1-2 minutes of anyone talking at them. If they are accountable for a presentation, song, skit, poster, or an exhibit, they take more ownership of the product. The product really doesn’t matter as much as the process, but to the students, it means alot. Writing an essay that only the teacher reads doesn’t mean anything to them. If their peers read their essays, that’s another story. If they have to do a showcase of their work and their parents or others in the school community see it, then they really care. If their work is published on the Internet, then they will work on it overtime, on breaks, after-school. The engagement factor explodes.
So the important piece here is to tie in any projects or student-centered activities with standards. As long as we use tests and standards as measurement of student achievement, we have to do this to show that this type of classroom works. Eventually, we need other means of assessment that are more authentic.
To move to this type of classroom takes time, patience, and being okay with taking risks and learning from failure. That is tough for today’s teachers that are accountable for scores based on standardized tests. What I suggest is to start slowly. If you are a teacher who wants to move in this direction, here are some steps you can take:
- discuss what you want to do with your administrator
- introduce the new Bloom’s Taxonomy to your grade level or department
- identify gaps in learning by analyzing student data
- choose one area where you can design one project or lesson that includes inquiry
- check the resources you have available first before you even start planning
- sit with a coach or colleague to redesign a lesson to include a more hands-on approach to learning
- ask your coach to model some of the strategies for you or explain to your students honestly what you want to do and ask for their help
- involve students in more of the design of questions and the type of products they will be presenting
A strong leader helps. If your students have access to computers and the Internet, they can work in groups. Talking about technology is another post.
I got this email from Adam Wentz about holidays…
I am currently suffering from holiday amnesia, a clinical ailment that leads to forgetting everything I was supposed to do after a lengthy amount of time not doing anything that I knew I was supposed to do while simultaneously doing everything I could to avoid doing anything. This of course has many symptoms not the least of which include forgetting passwords to work computers, ah ha moments where I remember something vaguely that I was planning to do before the break (and yet not exactly remembering the details), and of course there is the forgetting of peoples names… who are you people?
I laughed but it hit home. I didn’t realize that it took longer to do things over the holidays. Was it all the sugary treats? Was it that this is supposed to be a time to rest and reflect? The time with family I haven’t seen in a long time. I was going to do so many things over the holidays and hardly touched my To Do list. Someone wrote me. I couldn’t remember who they were. Then a day later, it was one of my good friends. Alzheimers? No, I got it. Adam is right. Holiday amnesia. So now it’s back to work and getting the brain moving again.
I have an idea that could provide high schools and universities extra revenue and open opportunities for students that might want to give up or drop out. Look at students who are bored. I see them. I see them roll their eyes and shake their heads.
What if students that believe they already know the content could challenge the class? I wish I could have done that during my master’s program. There were several courses where I knew the information and had even taught some of the content. I would have paid to challenge the course, but this was not an option. So I sat through hours and hours of lectures that I could have delivered myself. What a waste! A waste of my time and the professors. I know there were others in the class who knew the content also. The professor could pull together the learning objectives, outcomes, and multiple assessments (tests and/or culminating product). The student can then pay a fee to challenge the course. They could have three times to challenge it, and each time they pay a fee to take the challenge.
Teachers can determine prior knowledge and then allow students to challenge what they know. This could be an option in high school or maybe even middle school. This would be more like independent study where each student learns at their own speed. Those students that challenge the class or content get credit for the class if they master the challenge.
Now the challenge for schools is how to fund students that master the challenge and find other learning opportunities for them that stretch their abilities. Just imagine differentiating to this level. Think about a math student who is two levels above the rest of the class. Let them challenge the current level and then give them an opportunity to do research, create a project, or take an online class that moves them to the next level.
There is a fine line between…
- recklessness and courage
- perfectionism and feeling unworthy
- love and obsession
- taking care of yourself and narcissism
When do you cross it? The holidays are a good time to reflect on you and your life. The direction you take. Which door do you choose? What road did you go down?
Some of you may not even be aware of the road you took because you are too involved in your issues and that’s the only normal you know. After all, you were born and raised in a family that was your normal and recklessness might be the normal. It is all about being responsible for your actions and behavior. If you are a teacher and love a particular topic that all you do is talk about it and your students are bored and lose interest in the subject, then is it love or an obsession?
There are students who are such perfectionists that they don’t start a project because they know they will fail. It has to be perfect. They use every excuse in the book before starting any project or they procrastinate until it’s too late. They drive themselves nuts and prove to themselves that they are a failure even though they are capable. They proved to themselves and the world that they are unworthy. This is the person everyone tries to help but there’s nothing you can do for them until they change themselves.
You also know those people that take risks and look like they are putting themselves in danger. If they succeed, they are courageous. If they fail or get hurt, they are reckless.
How do we support or help people that are walking that fine line? Do we? Or is it our job to point out there is a fine line?
Holidays bring out the best and worst of people. The economy is putting stress on all of us no matter what your income. If you are poor, you are probably having more problems than just not having enough money to pay bills. I work with a high poverty middle school and am so in awe of children who put up with so much. One of the 6th grade teachers is doing “I am from” poems.
I read poems that tore at my heart strings. One boy wrote about living in a house with drunks and his mother dying of alcoholism. He had other things in the poem that I’ll share later when they create their digital stories with their poems. Other students wrote about unbelievable issues of lives unknown to me. I had to go out of the room and cry.
I’m so involved with my own life that I forget what our children are going through. All of us have more issues now than ever before because of the economy. Poor children are going through the most. They have no voice. Social services are overwhelmed and underfunded. They can only do so much. Schools have cut counselors and teachers are younger and don’t have the background or experience to deal with these issues. We are leaving more of our poor children behind than ever.
The reasons why they give up or leave school is more than the school’s problem. It is society’s problem. It is a matter of taking on their perspective and having empathy for their situation. It is our duty as adults to listen and to try to figure out what is happening to the child.
So I go back to my years in middle school: a white middle class 11-13 year old girl in Maryland. I remember wanting to be popular and liked. It was not the best time of my life. I was scared and didn’t know what was happening to my body. I was changing. I cried a lot for no reasons. I loved this boy or that boy. If they didn’t talk to me, I was devastated. So my perspective of middle school might have been the same as many young white middle class girls. I don’t even remember my teachers or the classes I took. I do remember sewing class and wearing one of my creations in a fashion show. But forget math or history. I don’t remember any of that. I remember I lost my best friend to Hodgkinson’s disease. That was awful, but I never knew anyone who had been shot or murdered.
This group of children I’m working with all know someone who has been shot. Many of them had a relative shot, a family member in jail, very rarely have breakfast or food on the table. I cannot even imagine what they go through. One child sleeps in the bathtub because that is the only safe place. Families are in trouble all over the US. If you are in trouble, there’s probably anger, yelling, crying, and everyone in the family is impacted. We cannot forget the children. What adults do in their homes or at school impacts the children.
Some children internalize everything so you never know there’s a problem. They smile on the outside and are so hurt on the inside. What I love about these “I am from” poems is that sometimes one child who is really in trouble opens up and writes what is happening to them. I believe our job as educators is more than teaching to a test especially for children at-risk and in crisis. Help your children to open up and share their feelings. Look at their perspective on life and have empathy for them. That’s what the holidays are about: sharing and loving each other — kindness and compassion.