Monday, April 29, 2013

Rethinking learning - pursuing passions

I'm flipping through my copy of Educational Leadership (which makes a refreshing change after being in a school where it was taken away from teachers and reserved for admin only!) and I've come across an interesting article by Will Richardson.  It caught my eye because Will writes about the division between students being able to pursue their interests and passions using technology outside of school, while in school they are limited by lists of standards and outcomes.  Since this year we have explored various options for students to pursue their own passions in school, such as the recent Day 9 Project, Independent Studies, the Curiosity Project and 20% time, I was especially interested to read this article.

Will writes that the biggest impact technology is having is that learning is now "truly participatory in real-world contexts".  Technology allows students can connect with others outside of school, and not just connect but communicate with, collaborate with and create with.  He writes about students driving their own learning and refers to a situation where "people whom we will never meet in person become some of our best teachers."

There is a world of difference between schools that focus on the technology, that talk about a one-size-fits-all approach such as "a SMARTboard in every classroom", or an "iPad programme for all Middle Schoolers", for example, and a school like mine where from Grade 4 upwards students can choose to bring in their own devices (laptops and mobile devices) to use as they learn.  The reason that some school leaders still insist that there is no evidence that technology improves learning is because the mindset of these educators has not changed - they are simply "adding on" technology to what is already happening, instead of re-envisioning what learning can look like.  Recently, during a visit by next year's new teachers, I showed a video that I'd taken by simply walking from the 5th floor of our campus down to the ground floor and capturing everything that was going on.  Most of the time the students didn't even notice that I was filming them.  These new teachers spoke over and over again about the "engagement" they saw, which disappointed me because what I really wanted them to notice was the rigorous learning, the way that students were creating and sharing their knowledge with others through blogs, ePortfolios, conference calls and so on.  What I wanted them to see was that the students were empowered to learn independently, many were not actually in their learning pods with a teacher but were spread out all over the school pursuing their own inquiries and in some cases actually teaching each other.

In the Educational Leadership article Students First, Not Stuff Will Richardson writes:
What, if instead of delivering the same, common education to every student, we focused on developing the skills and dispositions necessary for them to learn whatever they need to learn whenever they need to learn it?  That means rethinking classrooms to focus on individual passions, inquiry, creation, sharing, patient problem solving, and innovation.
This, to me, sums up what it means to rethink learning.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

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