Thursday, April 14, 2016

Teach the Way You Wish You Were Taught

During my first year as a teacher, I taught the way I had been taught. It was tried and true. It had worked for me. I believed it was right. Generally, it worked OK.

After a year or two of relying on these methods, I reflected more on my students' experiences and my own experiences as a student.

Students work hard. They listen intently. They take notes and try to understand. They do all of these until they feel overwhelmed and give up. Some give up quickly because they get overwhelmed quickly. They are sometimes labeled "lazy." Some only give up on certain classes or projects that put them over the edge.

None of this sounds like the type of learning I want my students, or my own children, to experience. I've said this before:
"I don't just want them to learn. I want them to want to learn."
There is a difference. If our learners want to learn, they will dive deeper, think more, and be more creative. Instructional design, student voice, and questions that matter to students can make that difference. I was lectured to, took notes, practiced on worksheets, and then took tests. Sure, there were science labs, poster projects, oral presentations, and lots more. The few learning moments I had where I did something that was meaningful were incredible (one involved the song Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog), and are burned in my memory.

There are only a few of those. Don't we want our students to have more than a few?

If your students' experience in school is the same as your experience in school decades ago, that is a problem. The world is different now than it was then. And you didn't like being taught that way anyway.

We can do better. There are models.

Don Wettrick created the Innovation Class model and has written two books with valuable stories and strategies from his experiences. His students are using their skills, knowledge, and creativity to design solutions that are important to them. The students come up with their own problems to solve, their own solutions, and it is all based in passion and Common Core. Not possible? Visit Don's site and see for yourself.

In a recent segment on NPR, Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, a Stanford professor, discussed his research on the effectiveness of "active learning" at the undergraduate level. Instructional design that gives students the opportunity to discover knowledge–rather than simply receiving a delivery from a professor–is gaining traction in higher education, too. In fact, Wieman said, "College lecture is the educational equivalent of bloodletting, one long overdue for revision."

Teaching should be the art of designing discovery, not scripting a droning delivery.

The evidence is published in books, presented at conferences, and backed up by research. While systematic change feels like moving the Earth, educators who can make grassroots change at the classroom and school level can build strength for the movement.

As for me and my students, we made progress together. We did not make the transition to a text book free, test free, and paper free project based learning environment in one year. It took time and work, but it was worth it. No matter your role in education, you can contribute by taking a risk with your students. Teach the way you wish you were taught.