What could be the future of learning?

It might seem strange to look towards the future by first looking back at the past, but it seems that there have always been deep thinkers considering the purpose of school and education, challenging the status quo and trying to revolutionize the way we learn. So what have we learned from them and what are we going to do with it? How we will use their voices to make our own choices and take ownership over the future of learning? 

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger” wrote Confucius (551 BCE) in Lunyu. He did not believe that we are born with natural abilities but develop our knowledge through long and careful study. He also had suggestions for pedagogy, “Only for one deeply frustrated over what he does not know will I provide a start; only for one struggling to form his thoughts into words will I provide a beginning.” (Lunyu).

Do we offer opportunities for learners to be thinkers? Do we help our children understand that they can develop skills and abilities through hard work or do we also quietly identify those who are “gifted” and who are not? Do we consider that we can grow our own abilities or are we “just not great at math”? How much do we let our students struggle and how much do we help?

The words of Socrates (470 BCE), as portrayed in Plato’s works, state that “knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning,” through this process the student “will recover it [knowledge] for himself.” Socrates did not believe that any one person or organization can teach others but that we learn by seeking our own understanding of truth by questioning and interpreting the wisdom and knowledge of others. He believed the goal of education is to “help you know what you can; and, even more importantly, to know what you do not know.” (Bob Burges, New Foundations)

Do we teach our students how to question or how to answer? Do we allow them to find their own meaning or do we give them our meaning? Do we act as teachers or as guides?

Mo Tzu (468 BCE) believed that we learn through challenges and by reflecting on failures (and successes), that we realize self-knowledge through questioning not conforming. His philosophy was one that encouraged people to work hard to change their fate and the inequality in the world.

Do we allow children the space to make “shame free” mistakes? Do we offer the time and guidance for authentic reflection or is it a chore met often with a groan? Do we ask our students to conform too often to the norms we set out for them? Can we allow them more opportunities to determine their own destinies even within our school communities?

Plato (428 BCE) wrote about a learning society in The Republic and The Laws, he presented a model for what we now describe as lifelong education.

Do we encourage lifelong learning by having an endpoint to school? Should we be enhancing the education of our adult learners through more professional learning opportunities, mentorships and coaching? Can we make our schools learning organizations? Can we better model lifelong learning for our students?

Aristotle (384 BCE) wrote, ‘Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Aristotle Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). He also categorized the disciplines into the theoretical, practical and technical.

Do we concentrate too much on the theoretical? Do we ignore practical and technical knowledge? Do we give our children the opportunities to do, to experience for themselves? Could we allow them more authentic learning experiences?

Michel De Montaigne (1533) wrote in his essay On Educating Children: “Obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt authoritas eorum qui docent.” [For those who want to learn, the obstacle can often be the authority of those who teach.]

Are we the obstacle? How do we share the “authority to teach”?

John Locke (1632) composed Some Thoughts Concerning Education where he stated that children “love to be treated as Rational Creatures,” and that parents and teachers should develop the habit of reasoning rather than just memorization. He emphasized a need for teaching critical-thinking skills. Locke also said that adults must should teach children how to learn and to enjoy learning; the teacher “should remember that his business is not so much to teach [the child] all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge; and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself.”

Are we honoring children as “rational creatures”? Do we teach them how to learn or what to learn? Do we support their love of knowledge and guide them to find it on their own or do we prevent them from finding their passions through mandatory assignments and compulsory requirements?

On Education was written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712); he said that early education should be more about interactions with the world and less about books. He discussed the value of developing inferential thought processes through experiences and observations. Rousseau believed that middle education should then continue on to the selection of a trade and learning the skills of a trade. He believed education should be useful and purposeful for the learner.  And finally, he posits that education should conclude with lessons on human emotions, especially sympathy, so the learner could be prepared to be brought into the world and socialized as an active and compassionate citizen.

Do we allow our young learners the chance to interact with the world and develop their senses to wonder and question and derive meaning from experience or do we focus too much too early on reading and writing and arithmetic? Is there a role for apprenticeships in school? Do we include enough character development in our curriculum, are they ready when they leave us to be compassionate citizens?

John Dewey (1859) believed that students should be part of their learning, to not just learn pre-determined skills, but to use their own prior knowledge and make connections with new ideas, to find out through hands-on learning or experiential education. Instead of just mastering facts, learning rules and being compliant, Dewey suggested, schools should help students to be reflective, inquirers, autonomous, critical thinkers and morally sound citizens.

Do we focus too much on “predetermined skills”? Can we allow our students to be more a part of the learning? Do we have too many rules and expect too much compliance?

Jean Piaget (1896) suggested that teachers should view students as learners and view education as learner-centered. This means that there should be an allowance for learners’ to shape their curriculum. He also believed that learners can construct, or build, understanding for themselves. Piaget said: “Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society … but for me and no one else, education means making creators… You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists” (from Conversations with Jean Piaget, Bringuier, 1980, p. 132).

Do we allow our students to construct their own meaning by shaping our curriculum? Do we nurture creators and innovators or conformists?

Paulo Freire (1921) and George Counts (1889) advocated for critical pedagogy. They believed that teaching is political and knowledge cannot be neutral. Their goal with critical pedagogy was to help students become more aware of the political perspectives within knowledge to develop critical consciousness and affect change in their world. Counts proposed that teachers “dare build a new social order” he continued by saying that teachers “cannot evade the responsibility of participating actively in the task of reconstituting the democratic tradition and of thus working positively toward a new society.”

Do we offer students opportunities to find information from diverse perspectives or are we teaching only one side of history and knowledge? Do we offer education for everyone or only those that fit our mold? “Do schools reflect society, or do schools transform society?” (quoted from Kevin Bartlett)

So what are my big takeaways? What we have learned about education and schools from the big thinkers throughout time? Will they guide us to reimagine schools? What could be the future of learning? Can we create learning communities where there could be:

  • More guidance for self discovery (Less teaching)
  • Learning organizations with more adult learning opportunities – lifelong learning!
  • More practical, authentic learning experiences offered – in the real world! (Less theory taught)
  • More opportunities to cultivate skills, especially critical thinking skills (Less emphasis on the knowledge and curriculum)
  • Possibilities for internships and apprenticeships
  • Classes and interactions focused on character development
  • Opportunities for active citizenship – action!
  • Chances for children to set the norms and determine the guidelines
  • Spaces for students voices to be heard as they determine their own path
  • Places with positive language aimed to develop a growth mindset
  • Spaces where we see the ability in everyone
  • More thoughtful provocations and productive struggle (Less teaching, helping and answering)
  • More active inquiry shaped by the learners (Less planning)
  • More opportunities for students to determine what they will learn, how they will learn, where they will learn, with whom they will learn and how they will know they have been successful
  • Education for everyone
  • Environments that develop creators and innovators (Not conformists)
  • Shared learning, planning, teaching, assessing (Less obstacles)

What could be the future of learning?

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Authentic, Sustainable Action…How?

This was originally posted on the blog Empower 2 Be…

As an IB educator the whole concept of action has been a baffling one to me! I love everything it embodies, in concept, but I have always struggled with the idea that I am manufacturing opportunities for action for my students. Surely, if I am truly embedding the IB principles and inspiring my class of learners to be masters for change they can discover these opportunities themselves?

Over the years I have seen some great examples of action that different teachers and schools have accomplished and, while I walk away so impressed, I leave wondering what I am doing wrong…why can’t I achieve this with my learners? I don’t believe in being inauthentic in order to tick a box and say “we did action”!

Of course there have been moments over the last 15 years where opportunities have been grasped and success has been achieved! Such as my 5th grader who was EAL and learning support and struggling to grasp the idea of having to tackle the exhibition. A project that seemed so out of his reach was achievable by allowing him voice and choice and the freedom to cater to his strengths not his challenges. His aunt was in a wheelchair and when he discovered my mum too was in a wheelchair he decided this was going to be the focus for his exhibition. He focused on interviewing via telephone to do his research and he channeled his research into how Germany (his Aunt) and Australia (my mum) accommodated for disabled citizens. He did a fantastic job and on the day he set up a course in the gym and had wheelchairs available for people to “have a go” at operating in order to gain empathy towards those physically challenged. It was GREAT and the pride and tears of his parents was heart warming. Yet as his teacher it was his action that I was the most proud of. He requested to come to school for the day in a wheelchair. To use it for the entire day and to see how well the school accommodated for the disabled student. He video’d, photographed and noted his experience and then wrote a letter to the school board and head of school to highlight the areas of the school that were wheelchair friendly and those that needed improvement. The school took notice and by the start of next term ramps had been installed.

This seems so long ago…15 years in fact, and yet it is still in the forefront of my mind! It is only now as I reflect on action that I realise what was probably a key factor for his success…voice and choice and working to his strengths. I didn’t force book research or essay writing, he journalled via video recordings and explained via photographs. As soon as taking the reading and writing focus away he was truly able to allow himself the freedom to explore him passion.

15 years later I have once again been able to see this authentic action again! Our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry focused on “Children’s rights and responsibilities exist to enable equitable opportunities.” It was going to be followed by our small business unit for How We Organise Ourselves so we decided to merge them so that the small businesses would actually be “social enterprises” and therefore an action for the Sharing the Planet unit.

 

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The students started by owning their roles as students of the UN…what did this mean? What did it currently look like? What COULD it look like?

img_2992.jpg At the end of the Sharing the Planet unit the class brainstormed ideas for taking action towards helping children in Vietnam access more of their rights.

 

IMG_4961Students broke up into small groups focused on one of the child rights that they felt passionate for. They researched different NGO (non government organisations) and service learning projects within Hanoi and the school that would be a good partnership for them to work with. The made connections to one or more of the UN SDG’s (sustainable development goals). AND finally they created their social enterprise company name, slogan and logo!

All of a sudden 4A had 6 operating social enterprise’s that were addressing 5 different SDG’s and collaborating with 6 different NGO / Service Learning Projects. The impact that this had on the students was fascinating to watch. The small business unit always was a fun one that the students LOVED, but by adding this extra layer of purpose to their businesses the students were inspired and worked that much harder to be successful. They were writing to different people around the school to meet with them and discuss action ideas and were excited to use money (that was once used for a class party) that they raised to help children less fortunate than themselves.

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There were definitely the groups that needed more help than others, groups that had students who were less committed and needed more guidance but even these individuals and groups were learning. The skills that they had been honing in on throughout our student directed year (such as group work, communication and time management) were being put to use and they were EXCITED!

At this current point in time the groups are working with their partner organisations to arrange how their profits will be spent. We have the Great Green Gardeners heading off to go shopping with the school gardener, for items to create gardening kits to then distribute to families who will be able to grow their own food. Teddy Paws are purchasing the materials they need to make 25 teddy bears to take to an orphanage where one of the class members started her life in. Others are making clothing, blankets and toys for children in rural Vietnam, making stationary kits for schools in Sapa, organising a years internet subscription for a rural school who has 1 computer…the class is a buzz. No longer have the students wanted to donate the money and say they made cookies and that was their action!

Before we left for Spring Break we sat together as a class and discussed what we learned from this experience. That they explained what that because they knew they were going to be creating social enterprises based on a child right they started thinking about it from the beginning of the Sharing the Planet unit. They said that they felt special because they are lucky to be students at a UN school and that they hadn’t realised what that really meant before. One student said “I feel more socially responsible to help other kids that aren’t like me” while 2 others students asked if they could continue to work on their social enterprise in the future or if it was over now the unit was? Without realising it, these students were asking to create sustainable service learning projects! And I wanted to stand on the table and DO MY HAPPY DANCE!

Upon reflection I am seeing connections between this experience my class had with the year of self-directed learning they have had. They were able be successful because:

  • they had started to develop the skills they needed throughout the previous units
  • they had become more socially self-aware of what their role in society was as a privileged international school student
  • they were able to explore the area they felt the most connected to and passionate about
  • they were taking responsibility for their actions and were WANTING to do more for others

So after all of this I am left wondering…

  • How do we have this happen again?
  • For the Who We Are unit what will the students decide to do?
  • What skills can I foresee they will need in order for them to have the ability to authentically take action (whatever that may look like)?

All of a sudden planning is looking a lot different…

HONOUR THE CHILD

This post was originally posted on The space of Jeans

At a recent IB Conference, Jayne Pletser leaves me with these profound words, “Honour the child”. Which leads me to ponder, what, at the end of the lesson/ day/ week/ term/ school year, do we do to honour the child?

As the teacher, do we

  • Feel inspired, passionate and care about who and what we are teaching?
  • Know our learners – as people?
  • Know what we believe about learning – how, why and when it happens?
  • Buy into the learning principles and beliefs of the school at which we teach?
  • Care? About the who, how, why and what we are teaching?
  • Consider learning above teaching?

Do we ensure that the child

  • Has a point of entry for learning?
  • Feels safe to ask questions and make mistakes?
  • Understands the value of being in the learning pit?
  • Is inspired by the provocations that we share?
  • Is “allowed” to be a person – to eat, drink, sit, think … learn in the ways that are right?
  • Knows that people care – without having praise and judgement guide their days?

If we have this as our mantra, what more will we do, every day, to HONOUR THE CHILD?