In the 21st Century our approach to education can and should be very different from previous centuries. The basic skills we teach are pretty much the same, but the tools we have to use require a different approach, as well as additional and very different literacies from centuries past. Information once difficult to find, maintain, and disseminate is now found by a voice command to a mobile device. The model of the teacher as the content expert standing in the front of the room, lecturing to rows of students taking handwritten notes to memorize and regurgitate on exams delivered after every unit of learning, seem now to be a dated model, at least in some classes around the country.
With access to more free-flowing information than has ever been available to mankind in any centuries past, our approach to accessing, curating, collaborating and creating with that information must change as well. There came a time when monks were no longer needed to transcribe books because of the printing press. There came a time when the Gutenberg press was replaced by a mechanized letterpress and that was later replaced by high-speed offset presses. Today, the idea of the printed word is being replaced by the digital word. With each step forward there are those who are more comfortable with what was, compared to what is. That is to always be expected. Eventually however, we all move forward.
The model of education that most of us are products of was designed for a different time and for a different purpose. The system was created to benefit industry as much, if not more so, than it was to create a freethinking society.
Technology, contrary to science fiction writers’ predictions, will not replace teachers. It will however change the model of how we teach from the 19th and 20th centuries, which was teacher-controlled and teacher-directed learning to a 21st century model of learner-directed learning. The teacher becomes more of a mentor and co learner with students. When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.
A very great disconnect in all of this occurs when we try to use the 21st century technology tools for learning and fit them into the 19th & 20th century model of teaching. I have witnessed English teachers having students do a composition assignment. They had students do a handwritten rough draft, revise it, do a final handwritten copy, and then put it on a word processor without accessing a spell check or grammar check. Those teachers learned that way, and taught that way, and added the technology to their 20th century model of teaching. The tech tool was not used for learning. In their future lives those students will certainly use word processors for any writing that they do. Is it not incumbent on their teachers to teach students how to do it correctly? (Yes, as an adult I effectively use a grammar check and a spell check on everything I write. Most people do, even the really smart ones.)
Another example is the Interactive White Board, IWB. It can be a great tool for interactive lessons in a 21st century class, but in the 20th century it becomes a great way to show kids videos as they sit in rows.
Being an educator in the 21st century will require a change in mindset. We are mostly all products of a 20th century upbringing. That is where we are grounded. We have been programmed to it in every way. As technology begins to change things, we naturally want to fit it into what we know and do. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where that no longer works. We need to revisit how we do things in education. If the 20th century methods were working, we would not be having all of these discussions about education.
We need to understand that teaching students how to learn will serve them much better than teaching them what to learn. As educators we need to keep in mind we are teaching our students for their future and not our past. Technology will continue to evolve. That is the nature of what it does. If we adapt and stay relevant, we survive. If we stand still, we will fall behind and we will no longer be relevant.
Placing 21st century technology tools for learning in a 20th century environment for learning is a losing strategy. We need to update our approach as we introduce new tools designed for learning. The pedagogy is still key, but the technology is an accelerant. This is not intuitive. It must be taught. We need to better prepare educators, as well as change the culture.
Posted in Accountability, Blog, Connected Educator, Curriculum, Education, Interactive White Board, Internet, IWB's, Leadership, Literacy, PD, PLN, Professional development, Professionalism, Reform, Teched, Technology, Thought leadership, Thought Provoking | 36 Comments »
How much of what we do as educators is done because that’s the way it’s always been done? I imagine that whenever these things, that we do out of a respect for history, were originally executed, there was probably a reason for it. My question is with our society and all of the systems within it changing so rapidly over the past few decades, are those original reasons for doing things a certain way still valid? How would we know unless we re-examined the things that we do in education and see if they stand up in today’s technology-driven culture?
I often use my dentist as an example of obsolete practices in a modern setting. It has nothing to do with teeth, but rather information forms. You may have had the same experience with any medical or dental office. Every year at best patients are required to fill out a form to update all of the doctor’s patient information. The office person hands out blank forms to fill out all of the information that already lies within the computer system. When I asked why do I need to fill out all the information that you already have, I was told that this is the way we have always done it.
Of course the method, obvious to me, would be to print out the needed information that the computer already had, so that I could check if it needed any corrections. That is one of the reasons why we have computers, to do those repetitive tasks that waste our time. Apparently, it never occurred to the dentist or the staff to use the technology at hand to make a dull, time-consuming task for a patient a more productive and less tedious experience. Why? Because that’s the way we have always done it. That leads me to ask, how many policies or practices do we have in our schools that only exist, because that’s the way it has always been done.
In many instances in education there is also a research component that affects everything that we do. At least we hear that as educators all of the time. Does the research support this? That question may not apply to some things however. Research tells us that the teenage brain does not function well in the morning hours. Few schools have changed their AM openings to accommodate the research. The overall positive effects of homework continues to be questioned by research, yet there are still schools mandating homework be given at alarming rates. Research tells us that physical activity enhances cognitive thinking and promotes more lasting learning, yet, as a money-saving effort, playtime, recess time and even Physical education are often the first programs that fall victim to budget cuts. The reason: That’s the way we have always done it.
How many kids have come to hate Fridays because many of their teachers see that as testing day? It is not uncommon for a kid to have three major exams fall on a single day. Is that a valid assessment of any learning in each of those classes? That is a direct result of educators testing on Friday, because that’s the way it has always been done. I could point out that direct instruction and lecture are no longer valued as the most effective methods of teaching, yet they are still the focal point in methodology of too many teachers. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been done.
No, this doesn’t happen in every school with every educator, but it happens more often than it should. We need to have a better understanding of why we do things in education. We can no longer take for granted that just because something has always been done a certain way, that it is good for kids. It is time to apply what we know to what we do. Isn’t that what education is about? It may be time to examine policies and practices to see if they still fit in an ever-changing modern world. The way we do things should always be affected by why we do things. If research, or common sense changes the why, we need to adjust the way. That is progress. If we skip progress, change will come through reform. Reform is never an easy alternative.
There are so many things to look at in education that it is just easy to continue doing things the way they have always been done in the past. We need to look at and consider just where that mindset has brought us. We need to make time to re-examine what we do and why we do it on all levels of education. If administrators don’t want to take it on, than teachers should. As educated people we have the research and the know how to apply methods to maximize learning for students. We need to prioritize that as a goal for education. That is not something that has always been done that way.
Posted in Accountability, Administrator, Assessment, Connected Educator, Education, Homework, Leadership, Professionalism, Reform, Teacher, Teched, Technology, Thought leadership, Thought Provoking, Truth | 6 Comments »