Learning is Changing whether we like it or not!

Learning is changing – whether we like it or not!

As I mentioned in my previous blogpost , I had the privilege of presenting at the On the Rise K-12 Digital Learning Conference last week. I focused on the following points in my presentation:

A vision of our Students
The culture in classrooms, schools, and Boards
Understanding learning differently
Grappling with 21st century skills and implementation issues
Innovation, Improvement and Creativity

In this post I would like to discuss learning and 21st century skills. I will leave my reflections on innovation, improvement and creativity to my next post.

If I ask most people to think about their experience of learning in schools, they tell me about sitting in rows, working quietly at their desks while the teacher was directing things from the front of the room. When I probe further, and ask them about what they remember from school, they will often speak about friends they made or activities they engaged in more then their learning experiences. When I ask them what they created in school, or what they invented many will offer me a strange look or even start to laugh. The learning these former students remember should be very different compared to what our present students would say….but would our present students be able to share different reflections?

I notice how angry or frustrated some parents will sometimes become if their child does not have a textbook. Even if we provide the student access to technology and digital resources, some parents do not believe it is really school unless their child, our student, has a textbook, reads the chapters and answers the questions. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with a textbook, I am using this example to indicate how resources should not be the focus in the classroom; rather, learning is the focus and the tools and resources we use must intentionally support student learning. ….which is driven by the student!

We speak often about differentiated instruction and personalized learning. In fact, I believe that most educators could explain what these concepts are, and yet, we do not always see evidence of this type of instruction and learning in action. There are many reasons for this, and I would suggest that a primary reason is that differentiated instruction and personalized learning are hard to implement. The good news is that educators are usually willing to accept challenges!

The Calgary Board of Education has been focusing on personalized learning over the last number of years. They define this concept as “a highly intentional and responsive learning experience that attends to each student’s learning so that all students can participate, progress, and achieve.” If students are listening to the same lecture, reading the same chapter from the text, engaging in the same learning task or participating in the same discussion, how can we be sure that we are providing a “highly intentional and responsive learning experience”? How are our student’s taking the lead in their learning? Where is their voice in terms of making choices about their learning, exploring problems they wish to solve, and creating new concepts and ideas individually and collaboratively ?

Personalized learning lends itself to our students’ achievement in what we have been calling 21st century skills. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) defines these skills as creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information, critical thinking, digital citizenship and technology operations.

Students need resources and tools to engage in personalized learning, supporting achievement in the skills outlined above. Further, achievement in these skills will look different then the type of achievement that we can measure through most tests and exams! In HWDSB we are exploring digital conversion, bring your own device, and 1 to 1 technology programs. We are also in the process of making all of our learning spaces wireless. Though digital resources and technological tools are important, we know that teaching and learning are the focus. Dr. Mark Edwards, Superintendent from Mooresville NC taught me this most recently at a conference when he said “we believe that relevant, personalized, collaborative and connected learning experiences drive effective teaching and student engagement, which in turn drives student achievement. Our digital conversion has taken this to an entirely new level”. If we wish to move to a new level, we will need to let go of some of the things that are familiar to adults in order to embrace those tools and resources that are more familiar to our students.

Our learning environments will need to change, and our students will take the lead. Digital resources will open up our students’ world beyond any one author’s reflections and our students will be taught how to meet their own learning needs in the context of clearly defined parameters. The teacher’s role remains exceptionally important. The teacher provides direct instruction at times, facilitates learning at other times, offers insight and advice but most importantly, the teacher provides the parameters in which students will work and as Michael Fullan states in his book “Stratosphere” teachers are “activators” of learning. And within these parameters which are wide enough for student exploration but still defined enough so that students consolidate their learning, great things can happen.

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7 Responses to Learning is Changing whether we like it or not!

  1. John Malloy says:

    Agreed! A classroom where students are engaged, leading their learning based upon their interests, and thinking deeply, may look different, compared to some definitions of the traditional classroom.


  2. jarbenne says:

    I think we need to show parents (and teachers) what this looks like. Beyond the provisioning of textbooks, and other ephemera of the traditional classroom, I think we need to acknowledge that a classroom embarking on this shift looks messy in comparison to what we are accustomed to seeing in the regular classroom. Too often we hear praise for the room full of silent diligent workers, pouring over worksheets in perfect rows (“your class is so well behaved!”); but is this picture one of engagement, or of compliance.

    I would much rather enter a space where students are engrossed in different tasks, are conversing with each other, are problem-solving together, are provisioned spaces for this to happen (throw the desks together!): that industrious hum will trump silent conformity, and lead to richer learning.


  3. wmelnick says:

    Yes, the engaged classroom has a rich “industrious hum” AND there is real work going on here. In the high school classroom, it is a risk sometimes for teachers to allow students to choose their assignment based on their own interests. But, when the curriculum is skill based, this leaves the content wide open for student choice and as teachers we need to take advantage of this. Kids love to show off their knowledge and expertise, and are more willing to be challenged to think critically and take the creative path when from a point of familiarity and strength. It is also from this confident place that students are more willing to move out of their comfort zone to try new experiences.

    It is hard to let go of the control of the classroom in order to accommodate the energy of the students – but it is a crucial step. It makes teaching exciting and challenging and pushes me into new territory too!


  4. John Malloy says:

    Thanks Sue….”why” is so important……especially when grappling with the “why” allows all of us to take ownership for our learning.


  5. Sue Dunlop says:

    Not only do we have to show teachers what this looks like, we have to ensure that they understand the why of doing it. Observing is never enough – it’s only a start. One way to make this happen is if teachers can engage in rich inquiries, then they can understand the why.


  6. Bev K-J says:

    Come to our French classes. They are noisy and sometimes we play games. (I have to admit though, that I do enjoy the quiet studiousness when we have an occasional written test where they are all working silently on their own paper.) Increasing practical oral interaction – students actually talking to each other in French (or Spanish, or German etc) is our current focus in improvement our our practice, so, less textbook work, less teacher talk and more student talk is what we are doing.


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