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.