Lecture is incredibly difficult to get away from, isn’t it? Even in the earlier grades, it’s often difficult to let go and let discover rather than presenting all the information known to mankind in the areas in which we are certified experts.
Science tells us that lecture is ineffective overall, yet we continue using it as our primary mode of delivery.
We know discovery, curiosity, novelty, and joy are all vital elements to successful learning. We also know that students need to be physically well-fed, nurtured, and safe in order to learn. We know that although rote memory and knowledge conveyance was the way to teach in the past, it does not help with many of our students’ needs for preparing for the future.
However, even with all this knowledge, it’s difficult to make that transition, leaping from what we’ve always done to what we know needs doing.
It’s especially tricky right this moment, due to public health concerns, closures, and not knowing from day-to-day whether you or your students will be seeing each other face to masked face or virtually.
In this article, we hope to give some starting points which educators can use to gravitate toward the changes that are necessary.
Now Is Not the Time
Although we’re presenting these ideas now, we definitely recognize that these are seeds for thought that can grow into something in time.
We know that right now is not the moment to try and add more to your plate.
Teachers are stretched and stressed far beyond normal now, and it’s just not even reasonable to assume anyone will be able to reinvent education in the midst of the chaos of this year.
However, as we’ve said before, we believe this will end.
A new normal will emerge, and we’ll be able to find the firm ground again.
And when that day finally comes, you’ll be ready.
So let these seeds germinate and grow, and by that time, you may be surprised to find you’ve got a whole garden from which to harvest a new way to educate the next generation.
Ask the Right Questions
Forming the “just right” questions that can both inspire curiosity, provide just enough information to guide students, and still leave all the “important” facts discoverable can feel like an impossible task, but innovative educators say it’s one of the most significant, vital skills to obtain and hone.
In forming questions, experts say that educators should create them with critical and higher-order thinking in mind. Don’t just ask “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and direct informational questions. Ask “how”, “why”, and “what if” questions. Ask questions that require opinion and informed thought.
Ask questions for which your students’ answers can grow and change over time as they learn more.
Reinvent the WheelIn general, educators try hard not to create something from nothing, but now is the time (well… to plan for the future time) to go ahead and reinvent the wheel.
Educators have made a valiant effort to do things in a new way. Most educators in the classroom have tried very hard to move from face-to-face to virtual learning in the past year.
However, what we’ve accomplished is trying to recreate the in-person classroom in a virtual setting - even to the point of “Bitmoji” replications required by entire school districts that recreate the physical building in the virtual setting.
But that didn’t work, because the virtual setting is simply not the same as the physical classroom.
And everyone knows and is affected deeply by that difference.
What is a bit more subtle is the changes we try in the classroom to shift from old practices to new.
Many teachers do the exact same things they’ve always done in a different format - lecturing, for example, via an online source so students can interact in a blended learning environment. Thus they reinvent nothing and end up reusing the same old ineffective strategies (although adding both a pause and rewind button, which can be very useful).
Instead, while we still will stick with the content we must cover, it’s time to add some much-needed variety to our delivery.
That’s why many of the revolutionary schools and educators mentioned in this series are mentioned - they’ve reinvented the delivery.
The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia is known for dancing on desks, making chants, cheering for each other as they gain house points, and teachers delivering model lessons to other teachers while simultaneously teaching students.
Wooranna Park Primary students in Australia learn in virtual Minecraft spaces, go on missions in their life-size dragon boat, or hang out in their maker space.
Students at The Green School in Bali solve real work ecological issues in their giant, bamboo-structured school. They have their own recycling center and grow their own lunch ingredients. Math classes determine how much of each item they need, the classes all take care of the communal garden together, and they take turns sharing many of the responsibilities.
At Fujo Yochien in Japan, students make choices about their physical play. They are guided by their learning interests, and teachers encourage independence even though their students are very young.
Teachers at Challis Primary have taken on a family approach, sometimes meeting their students when they are born. They are invested in the family and community and have invited the community to come into the school to help and teach their families. The school is a hub of community activity, and as such, everything they do is part of a well-orchestrated, long-term strategy focused on relationship-building that enhances every aspect of learning.
At Østerskov Efterskole in Denmark, students are simply… not themselves. They explore subjects centered around a week-long, live-action, role-playing event in which each student does everything as the character they are assigned.
The students at Manurewa Intermediate in Auckland, New Zealand are encouraged to use the local cultural background to build a strong community. They are reaching out to the surrounding area, beautifying their environment, and focusing on fostering safety.
At Lesher Middle School, everything the school does is student and faculty-centered. They’ve given students a voice, and students, in turn, have helped to shape the successful current and future of each and every lesson they participate in.
Casa Sula in Costa Rica makes honoring children’s natural inclinations in curiosity and toward learning. They provide the opportunities children need to learn about the things they are most interested in.
In each of these cases, the schools have changed their delivery of instruction in one way or another. They aren’t all holding classes in the control center of a life-sized spaceship made by the staff. They aren’t all dancing on tables. They aren’t all exploring the rainforest, doing role-playing every week, or exploring a mutual cultural history.
Each of the teachers in each of these schools is using tools they have acquired to meet the specific needs of their students in ways that are unique, meaningful, and creative.
Even if you are not the creative type, this is something we can all do more of - leaving the old models behind to embrace new, more effective strategies that will help students move forward to a future that is currently completely unknown.
You know your students. What can you do to entice them into learning in the future? Now is the perfect time to plant those seeds so ideas can start to grow.