Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Teaching and Learning in an Idea Economy

Recently I attended a meeting for educators at our State Department of Education.  As we were discussing current concerns over standardized testing in our schools, the governor walked into the room.  You can imagine the surprise to see our governor, John Kasich, step into the room and take a seat in the discussion group.

As he talked he began to discuss the changes coming to our state, which he explained is no longer an agriculture economy or an industrial economy, but instead needs to move toward a "cloud" economy.  I can't speak for the governor, but in my mind he was talking about the way technology has shifted economies.  No longer are we limited to goods produced in our state and no longer are our companies limited to buyers in our area.  Money can be made not just through industry or service, but through ideas.  The internet has opened new possibilities for thinkers and entrepeneurs.

What does it mean to be teaching children in a time of ideas?  How do we prepare them for an idea economy?  It isn't easy to revision school as we know it.  What do we do that needs to stay and what needs to go?  Our classrooms and schools need to look and function differently.  I'm not sure what that means, but I do think some important thinking starts here:

How are students using time?  My new question has become, "Is what students are doing worth their time?"  I think we have to be willing to really think about this.  Students in an idea economy need to know how to ask big questions and seek answers.  These answers don't always solve problems, but instead lead to new questions.  Worksheets (paper or digital) and assigned tasks do not create thinkers and solvers.  Are students spending time in higher order thinking opportunities that move beyond remembering/understanding/applying and toward analyzing/evaluating/creating?  Are there opportunities to learn from peers and collaborate with others?

Who owns the learning?  I'm amazed at how much my role as a teacher has changed since I first started teaching.  It's sometimes uncomfortable, but always rewarding.  No longer do I plan every step, every minute.  Teaching requires more thinking on my feet, more following, more listening, more understanding.  Students are now the decision makers in their learning.  When students are not sitting beside us, what are they doing?  Are they doing something we told them to do or something they decided to do?  Is the work they are doing authentic?  Is it connected?  Is it taking them deeper in their understanding?

Do we have environments of trust?  When I went to school, we seemed to most often function on compliance.  To be good at school meant following rules and completing tasks assigned.  Today learning has evolved.  Ownership and choice are essential in personalized learning environments.  We have to trust that children can make decisions about their learning, set their own goals, and talk about their own progress.  We have to trust that schools can tell their own stories and that districts can make their own decisions.  We have to allow communities to determine what their children need.

Are students and learning communities connected?  In an idea environment, learners are connected.  They are connected to their learning, to their peers, to their community, to information, to resources and to learning communities beyond their classroom.  More and more I consider the way what we are doing connects to life beyond our day.  I want students to be able to take what we learn and make it a part of their everyday life.

Is learning personalized?  I love pondering this graphic of Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization.  One of my favorite statements in personalization is "Connects learning with interests, talents, passions and aspirations."  Are the structures we have set up flexible enough that students drive their own learning?

Are we resource rich?  When developing learners willing to problem solve, think deeply, ask tough questions, formulate ideas, collaborate with peers, and create new understandings resources are essential.  Are our classroom libraries able to support questioning, thinking, and learning more?  Are we connected to resources that will support student learning?  I often wonder what would happen if we took funds used for testing and moved them to resources.  Oh, to dream...

Are we moving beyond standardized measures?  We are often held back by standardized assessments.  Standardized tests seek right answers.  They work in linear formats.  They require students to work for longer periods of time than developmentally acceptable.  They take time away from real learning.  They assume that everyone learns at the same rate and thinks in the same way.  Our country has been successful because of innovators, risk-takers, creators, and communicators....not fill-in the bubble thinkers.  Are standardized tests measuring what we value?  Can they?  What measures can be used to know if schools are effectively supporting student progress?

How do you think teaching and learning are different in an "idea economy"?  What should we change?  What needs to stay the same?  

Other posts about rethinking education are here:

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  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, Cathy. You've essentially just described how my school operates, & has done so all these past years, yet there are those who don't agree that students should guide their learning. As facilitators of our students' work, from 5 to 14, we think they should, & they do. It takes a whole village to believe this, however, & finding ways to make changes as you said, is not easy. Many of you 'thinking' teachers have subtly made the concepts you have described work, but others have not, & cling to the idea that teachers know, & teachers teach what they know while students intake the lessons. Because of technology helping us reach out, perhaps change will happen more quickly?

  2. I always love reading your blogs Cathy. I'm glad you were chosen to go to this meeting because you have so much great thinking to offer. You ask good questions that I think we all need to reflect on. How do we help teachers, administrators and community members make the needed shifts? How do we agree upon what those shifts should be? So many questions to consider. Your post brings a lot of good conversation starters.