Think about your favorite lesson to teach. We’ve all got at least one; the one we look most forward to teaching every year and can’t wait to dust off. When did you first start teaching that lesson? Last year? Five years ago? More?
Does the lesson look the same now as when you started teaching it or have you made changes? Most likely, the first time you taught it, there were some bugs. Maybe a direction was unclear or there was a step missing that, once added, made the student’s work go much more smoothly. The great part about accumulating experience is that we get the opportunity to revise our work and continually make it better.
Here’s the thing though. If that favorite lesson is more than, say, five years old, there are so many things we’ve learned about learning and teaching that your lesson is most likely in need of a revamp (and very possible that it might even if it’s newer than that). Much research has shown us that the way many of us were taught is actually relatively ineffective. That’s not to say we didn’t have great teachers; in fact, it’s likely one of those great teachers who inspired you to pursue this career in the first place. Even our best educators need to update their material once and awhile.
Think of it this way: how likely would you be to go to a doctor who hadn’t gone to a single medical conference or medical practice seminar in the past twenty years? Would you want them using outdated medical tools, practices, and procedures on you or your loved one? Of course not! With medicine, we want the most up to date knowledge so we can care for our health effectively.
Education is very similar. Though the stakes may not seem quite as high as in medicine, using practices that don’t support what we know about how students learn actually makes it that much more difficult for our students to learn. We need to use what we’ve learned about education to make better choices.
Before you teach your next unit or lesson, consider the following images:
What do you notice? What do they have in common? All of them shift the focus from the teacher as knowledge bearer/giver and student as passive receiver to a model where the students are actively learning with the teacher as facilitator or guide. You’ll also notice that there is an increase emphasis on personalizing learning for the student (and using technology to help with this as needed). Kids don’t need the same things, so they don’t get the same things (I will grant that this gets a little stickier to understand when we have a push in education for “standardizing” everything – more on this in a later post). In the 21st century classroom, the teacher’s role becomes more of a coach, guiding kids to the outcomes while pushing them to do the real “work” of learning.
I hear a lot of teachers argue that these ideas don’t match what was when they attended, and they’re right. Schools in years past prepared students for jobs that already existed. But schools today must prepare students for jobs that can’t even be imagined yet. Kids today have unprecedented amount of knowledge at their fingertips within seconds. That changes the type of information they need to know going forward, and the type of skills they need to have to be successful after graduation.
This is a hard concept for some teachers to get behind. We are trained to be in charge of the classroom and make all of the decisions about student learning. But don’t worry; giving students choices is not the same as letting them be in charge (My two-year-old gets to make choices, too, but he is certainly not in charge). In fact, I would argue that allowing for student voice and choice actually requires better classroom management skills because those things can only happen within a strong classroom structure so students can feel safe and free to learn and explore.
Again, remember we are preparing students for life after our classroom. Life is full of making choices. If we want our students to make good ones in the real world, they need practice. And what better place to practice making decisions that probably aren’t life altering than in the classroom with the support of a great teacher/coach?
These changes likely won’t happen overnight. I don’t expect you to overhaul your entire curriculum over the weekend. But as you sit down to plan your next week, consider the following and see where you can make a tweak or two:
- Is there room in your lesson plan for a chance for students to make a choice or two?
- How can you allow them to be creative, collaborative, critical thinkers with strong communication skills?
- How can you provide differentiated learning for students of varying ability or readiness levels?
- If your lesson includes lecture, how can you shorten, minimize, or toss it out altogether for something more engaging?
You just mind find your changes addicting. I can guarantee your students will!