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Practice Learning, Not Teaching

A current buzzword in education is personalization, connecting learning to students’ interests and even, for some, their passions. We read about the success of a school program here, another there, focused on students exploring big ideas based on the students’ own questions, generated from their curiosity and interests. It’s one thing to read about and intellectually understand why this is important, but is an ‘intellectual understanding’ enough to create changes in attitudes and actions? Wouldn’t it be better to experience this learning yourself?

We urge students to develop their interests and passions, we talk about having more passion-based learning environments, we want students to develop meta-cognitive skills about learning how to learn, yet educators don’t have the opportunity or the support to do the same and experience how profound this type of learning is.

Unfortunately, with long working days that include afterschool supervision, meetings, grading, reports, etc, teachers have little time to spare for apparent ‘non-essentials’. On top of that is the expectation (with financial enticement) that if they take courses, they should be courses designed to build pedagogical knowledge and make them better teachers. There’s little time left over for teachers to pursue other interests and passions.

Therefore, I propose that all teachers be given both the time and financial incentives to take a course in something about which they are passionate, have an interest, or about which they are curious and just beginning to explore (there’s nothing more eye-opening and humbling than learning a new skill as an adult!). Let teachers be learners, too.

I once helped run a workshop to demonstrate how Logo (the programming language developed for education), can impact learning. We asked each of the participants to create a project of interest to them. Instead, they all began creating projects designed to teach something – after all, they were there to see how the software could be used in the classroom. When encouraged to create something of interest to them – to think as learners, not teachers, they found this a difficult shift. They worried they would be wasting time wondering how they could understand how to use the software from a teacher’s perspective if they created something not focused on teaching.
As the week progressed, we saw a shift as first one, two, then more participants began to create projects of personal interest to them. By the end of the week, instead of talking about how to teach with the software, everyone was chatting about strategies for debugging (problem-solving) and articulating thinking strategies they were used and then applied to multiple challenges. They were thinking about their thinking. The workshop had shifted from one about Logo and teaching to one about learning.

So, I would like to strongly urge administrators and policy makers - support your teachers and encourage them to connect their learning to their interests and passions. Then ask them to share their insights on learning with colleagues at team meetings, in PLCs, at pedagogy seminars or during embedded school/district PD and together reflect on the implications for teaching. In my opinion this would be an extremely powerful way for teachers to build their pedagogical knowledge and improve teaching practice.

I welcome your thoughts on this idea.
March 7th, 2012 @ 11:16AM