There is an old saying from that wise old author Anonymous that goes something like this; we are all experts on education because we have all had experience with education. Of course, for all of us, to varying degrees, this is true. Every generation of schools has to understand, and wrestle with, change. In schools we see changes in student demographics, changes in pedagogy as a result of research and emerging technologies and changes in the demands and expectations that parents and society have of our schools.
Too often, we think of the changes and challenges we are seeing in our modern schools as being about technology or the moving away from teaching the basics. Not true. The real change and challenge is related to who actually ‘owns’ the learning and how this learning can occur. The schools we went to were based on the premise that the teacher owned the knowledge and gave it to the students- who in turn, demonstrated success by regurgitating this knowledge back to the teacher. The questions we asked as students; “will this be on the test?” are not the questions our students today are asking; “why is this important?” or “why should I do this?”
All the nostalgic whinging in the world will not change the fact that the children that this generation of parents have raised (and are raising) have been conditioned to ask these why questions. What we have learned about the brain and how people learn, along with the powerful, connected information tools we now have, is that learning is an instinctual process that is driven by the curiosity and creativity of the learner. The most recent research indicates that people who are curious and act upon their curiosity lead more productive, complete and satisfying lives.
It turns out that “Why do we have to learn this?” is actually the question all students should be asking. For us as educators and parents, this is a great challenge- the schools that we knew are not the schools we now need. The emphasis on recall and memory still plays a role but they are nested within the curiosity, critical thinking and creativity of the student.
At our school; we have noticed that this type of thinking and problem solving is an area of struggle for many of our students and, as a result, we have invested a great deal of time and energy in learning how we, as educators, can guide our students to use questions to launch, sustain and consolidate their learning.
Interested in reading more about this? Try Amanda Lang’s recent book The Power of Why.
The lights go out and it’s just the three of us You, me and all the stuff we’re so scared of
We’ve had a busy few weeks at my school as we approach the March break in Ontario. Into year two of a new reporting timeframe, educators are adapting to the reality that with report cards going home in early February, the cycle and flow that we grew accustomed to has been altered (and change is scary).
Principally, the past practice was to use the last few weeks of February to assess, evaluate and report, which meant we could say things like “…this is important stuff, report cards go home soon!” to keep things in order and in response to the question “Why do we have to do this?”
Then we would all take a well-deserved break.
Now February and early March are filled with learning and teaching. With the next report card months away at the end of June, February now is the beginning of a learning cycle, not a culmination. Our thinking has had to shift and this is kind of scary for us. Fortunately, we have really brave and curious teachers at our school and they are eager to adapt and grow. So, I’ve been doing a lot of co-planning, co-teaching and professional inquiry, especially in our grade 7 and 8 classes, where the “why” question is not easily answered.
We’ve been exploring ways to build inquiry into our learning tasks; just in math for now and, soon in language and the other pursuits. We been thinking about ways to use the question “Why?” and adding the questions “How?” and “When?” and, “Why not?” as the launch pad for our learning.
Much of this was prompted by a spike in student actions that were not okay to us and required some responses (read disciplinary) and some reflection on our part as a team. We realized our older students were trying to tell us (and show us) that they needed something different and personal. We have decided to look upon this as their invitation for us to change; an invitation we decided to accept.
Early results from our students (and teachers) is this is good stuff. We are talking more with each other (and not at each other), we are using more complex and creating contexts for learning about number and taking the time to support our students to work in small teams to solve problems. We are all smiling more, and laughing more.
This is a much nicer way to lead up to a break, I think:)