“A bad curriculum well taught is invariably a better experience for students than a good curriculum badly taught: pedagogy trumps curriculum. Or more precisely, pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught.”
How things are taught. That’s what is vital. That’s what I get paid for.
But on balance, is all of this “innovation” really changing us?
Not so much. Our efforts at innovating, regardless of method, idea, or product, have been focused far too much on incrementally improving the centuries old structures and practices we employ in schools, not on fundamentally rethinking them. And the vast majority of “innovation” I’ve seen in my visits to schools around the world doesn’t amount to much change at all in the area where we need it most: using those new methods, ideas, or products to shift agency for learning to the learner. To put it simply, innovation in schools today is far too focused on improving teaching, not amplifying learning.
That sections reminds me of the acronym "SAMR," which applies to how teachers use technology in their classrooms.
S - substitution. Some just use technology to substitute another form of technology. An example would be listening to a novel on iTunes as you read it.
A - augmentation. Some just use technology as improve their curriculum a little bit more than simply substituting one tool for another. An example of this would be reading a book on a Kindle, which allows you to look up words or see what others have highlighted, instead of reading a book.
M - modification. Some use technology to actually enhance the learning experience. An example is using Google Docs to post discussion questions on that student can access any time and post responses. Another example is using a site like TED Ed to personalize any video related to your content.
R - redefinition. Some use technology to create a new type of learning experience that couldn't have existed previously. An example is using FaceTime or Skype to interact with an author or historian. Or using FaceTime or Skype to set up a question and answer session where students can FaceTime with a teacher on any homework problems they're having. Or how I have recently tried to redefine feedback on writing in my class is by using Google Drive to give immediate feedback on my students' writing as they compose in my class.
Most schools today are in such a rush to innovate that they forget not jus about whether the new tools (whether those tools be technology related or curriculum based) that they forget what kind of experience those tools are fostering for teachers and students.
What I love about Richardson's article is that he believes students need to stop adding new gadgets every couple years and get back to the real concept of education: creating life-long, passionate learners by FIRST finding out what turns them on and they enjoy. We examine their curiosities and questions. THEN we use that passion and energy as a bridge to what we have to offer them.
I believe if you do that correctly, it doesn't matter if every single student in your school has a MacBook Air, a Chrome Book, a Kindle, or just a tablet . . . they will have something far more important - a passion and desire to learn. Sometimes we have that backwards - we often think the newest gadget is going to poster that passion and desire to learn . . . which it doesn't because that was never there in the first place.
In this way, the gadget just become yet another distraction.
I still – after 19 years – fall in the trap of asking too many ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions or even leading questions (you know the kind where you fish for one specific answer and one specific answer only).
This edtopia post offers some alternatives:5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Their Students. They aren’t game-changers, but they serve as a good reminder to me that I can ask simple questions that still cause the students to think and respond in broader, more complex ways.
1. What do you think? Simple, right. Yet, this little questions gives students a chance to give us feedback on how they are processing our instructions or lessons.
2. Why do you think that? Not so simple. At least for me. I don’t know that I have ever even asked this question before. This pushes students to support their thinking. Imagine that? Rather than just telling me what I want to hear!
3. How do you know this? Again, simple but so effective. This allows them to make connections (and that is something I’m big on, yet I have never asked this question in class either!) to what they have read, seen, or heard.
4. Can you tell me more? This allows students to extend their thinking and share their connections and experiences.
5. What questions do you still have? A last call for those who maybe didn’t want to volunteer anything with question number one.
I read an interesting quote this summer: “Kids today are prepared for life by what they are learning outside of school rather than what they learn in school.”
Unfortunately, I agree with this statement. I don’t think that what we have to offer students in terms of curriculum and knowledge isn’t vital. I know that it is. However, I know the way we offer that curriculum and knowledge just isn’t engaging to our digital students. Thus, they are being prepared more for life by what goes on outside of school than what goes on inside.
Outside of school, students engage in skills and activities that fully engage and inspire them. Because they live in such a flat world, they also have far more access to knowledge and information than any generation before them. I think students have always been more motivated by their own personal interests and passions outside of school. For example, while in the later ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, I sat in my room and read Stephen King books and wrote my own stories (these were skills that I learned on my own that made a huge impact in my life later on when I had a high school teacher connect my passion for reading and writing outside of school with her English class IN school). But that was pretty much the extent of what I could do with my passions and interests because of the isolated world I grew up in.
Today, however, that isn’t the case for the digital generation. A student with a passion for reading and writing (like me when I was a student) can certainly still read and write as much as I did years ago. The difference, though, is that it doesn’t simply end there for them. Students could then start a blog where they can publish their writing and connect to a larger, real-world audience. Students can make videos pertaining to their favorite books and authors and publish those on Youtube. Students can also make and publish podcasts on iTunes. Students can connect to larger communities of people with their shared interests and passions. Moreover, students can even go so far as to publish their own works via amazon, iBooks, and a number of other outlets. This all was unimaginable to me when I was reading and writing in my room in 1989!
Just look at all of the project based learning, Velcro learning, and collaboration the students were doing in that last example. And none of it had to do with anything that went on in school.
Thus, it is more important than ever to try and connect the digital generation’s personal interests and passions to the content of our classes, just as a teacher did with his middle school English class in Florida. When I attended the National Council Teachers of English national convention last winter in Minneapolis, I attended a session where a middle school English teacher demonstrated how – using Amazon publisher – he and his students crowd sourced the publication of a class novel (each student got to contribute 200 words for a specific segment of the novel from various points of view. Then an editing board, made up of members of the class, would select with point of view would be included in the book from each student). Now that is digital teaching!
Embrace the digital landscape that is school today. Our roles have changed. I don’t see us ever going back either.
I think the role of teacher will change from being a ‘sage on the stage’ to a ‘guide on the side’ where we try to use project based learning to engage students and inspire them to put their native talents to work as they follow a process of inquiry to discover meaning rather than having us deliver it to them. I once read that the role of a great teacher is not to cover material for their students, but a great teacher allows their students to uncover the material on their own. I think that is as true for the digital generation as it ever has been.
I think the three key aspects of the new mindset teachers must adapt are: teachers must move off the stage. No longer can we talk at students.
First, we must engage them with Velcro learning that involves students being more actively engaged in their own learning.
Second, we must let students access information natively. Students today have so much power at their firngertips with their technology. I think it’s my job as a 21st century teacher to make them away of all the leverage they have. For example, if a student dislikes their school lunch, they have so much power to enact change. When I was a student in the last ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, I would have just been out of luck. What could I have done? I could have presented my complaint to the principal or written a letter to the paper. But the odds of me enacting significant change were zilch. Today, though, because of the amazing digital tools every student has, they can easily do what Seth Godin encourages them to do “make a ruckus.” Students today could easily document their issues with the school food via images, interviews, and polls using their smartphones and Twitter. They could get legitimate feedback from their peers via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. They could start an email campaign by emailing every member of the school board from the students’ various emails (our students each have at least three). So imagine if 25 motivated students were to each send every school board member 4 emails detailing their issues, questions, and suggestions regarding the school food. They would surely get the attention of the school board. Then students could document it all on a blog to show the community. Talk about making a ruckus! Here is an actual example of something very similar to that that occurred a few years ago.
The third key aspect in changing mindsets is teachers must let students collaborate. No longer will students – due to the flatworld in which they will both live and work – work in isolation. So why should we continue to teach them in isolation (as in students seated at single desks in rows listening to teachers recite supposedly important information that they then memorize and regurgitate on an isolated test). By allowing students to work collaboratively, teachers will be making their leaning Velcro and meeting the most important aspects of the Learning Cone (where students could work in groups to collaborate and then teach what they have learned to others) and of Project Based Learning.