Teaching is not about implementing neatly packaged programs with fancy acronyms or repeating a list of strategies useful for mastering a certain skill. Nor is learning even remotely related to the act of filling in the blanks on a a chart, labeling a map or chanting grammar rules. Teaching and learning are complicated, ever evolving processes that have no clear stepping stones, rather only a general path towards an always changing destination.
After over 4 decades of practice being both a teacher and a learner, this is what I believe about teaching and learning (with educational theorists and their corresponding theories that support my thoughts, listed in parenthesis).
In the beginning, learners start by finding out the basics about the material…through experience, minimal direct instruction, and practice. Typically, at this stage, learning takes place alone (Taxonomy of Learning-Bloom).
Once learners have a firm understanding of the basics of material, the learning moves to the level where the learners reflect on the meaning of this knowledge-both alone and with peers (Social Constructivism-Dewey et al.). They ask questions such as… Is the material useful? How can it be used? Where do I see it at work around me? This takes place in an experiential environment (Kolb)-connecting the material with the world through hands on projects/activities (Project/Problem Based Learning-McMaster).
Finally, the learners begin to see NEW ways of using the material. They compile ideas, debate the worthiness of each, build on each other’s work (Knowledge Building-Bereter and Scardamalia) and move the learning to a higher level (Taxonomy of Learning-Bloom). At the culmination of this process, learners end up with an entirely unique product that displays how they have created something new from the original material that was learned. This places the learner into the realm of Constructionism (Pappert)….articulating learning to a wider audience through this final product. Often that product is shared in a way, via technology and Web 2.0 tools, that allows the learning to be displayed to an audience beyond the immediate community in an enduring way.
As learners gain experience with this type of learning cycle…the earlier stages move more quickly and the cycles begin to overlap….with learners connecting learning across the curriculum, extending it beyond the school walls to experiences and activities in their personal lives, and building networks of experts to advise them in their discovery processes (Connected Learning-Mimi Ito et al.). Along the way, the learner is the center and driver of the process and the teacher is there to guide…through respecting how the learning takes place (Multiple Intelligences-Gardner), allowing the learner to follow his/her passions, and helping the learner to see how the process is interconnected and personal-rather than just imposing a one-size-fits-all “system” upon the learning process (Pedagogy of the Oppressed-Freire).The result…TRUE lifelong learners.
ALSO….As a designer and leader, I believe in …
-creating spaces that invite exploration
-allowing people the chance to follow a passion
-taking away the option of failure
-embracing creativity without comment
-connecting everything; from people to ideas
-educating for the 21st century
-building knowledge collectively
-telling our stories
and….recognizing our need for play.
What do you believe about teaching and learning? I challenge you to take time to decide this for yourself. Some of the theorists I listed are good places to start. If you don’t know what you believe, then you will be easily swayed to use that shiny program in the box, even though the things the shiny program asks kids to do, are really not what is best in order for teaching and learning to take place. And, without knowing what you believe, you might miss that hidden gem of an activity or idea because it seems too “out there” or “messy”, and then you and your students lose out on REAL learning.