It is easy to talk about what could be, what should be and what other people could do. Instead, I would like to share what I have done, and what we are trying to do, as we engage in and embrace this learning evolution.
I began my career trying to emulate the teachers I remembered most, and through the stories I remembered from my school experiences. The teacher was mixing content, stories and weaving a narrative. While hardly an actor, there was something about the performance of teaching I really did enjoy. I would organize the desks in a circle, and while this was great for students to engage with each other, it also gave me centre stage. I was very focussed on the lesson plan and activities in the classroom. I saw myself as the expert, and it was up to me and the textbook to help students understand the content. Now, here is a true confession — I loved being the ‘sage on the stage’. In my Social Studies and English classes I would often retell the stories my memorable teachers had told me.
As I became more comfortable, I tried to allow students more of an opportunity to tell their stories. I worked to create situations where students could simulate the real world. In History class this might have been a United Nations role-play lesson, or reviewing a series of case studies in Law class. Students loved the examples drawn from the “real world”. In Law, we would study cases making headlines in the news, and other Social Studies’ classes leant themselves ideally to current events. I loved the relevance that came from these lessons, as well as the engagement. Combining my lectures with hands-on activities, like putting Louis Riel on trial, led to an even richer teaching and learning experience.
More recently, I have tried to not only simulate the real world, but give students opportunities in the real world. I often describe it in simple terms as moving to real-real, instead of fake-real (mock trials, case studies etc). My most concrete example of this is one I have shared previously (here) and presented at TEDxUBC:
Lately, I have seen many other wonderful examples of real world teaching. Delta District Principal, Neil Stephenson, shared a number of stories from his experience in Calgary, including this one (here) where Grade 9 students visited local universities in Calgary to convince young voters to go to the polls in their 2010 Civic Election. In our district, there are also many wonderful examples, like the Cypress Park students who participated in real world inquiry around clean water (link to video). Another example is Larry Rosenstock, who presented twice last month challenging the audience with the power of his work at High Tech High in San Diego (link to video). And, although challenging, this push to real world inquiry is very exciting; when given the chance, learners love to engage in the world, and not only to be told about what’s going on in the world or through role simulation.
It is simplistic to think one method of teaching can replace another, and it is disrespectful to conclude there haven’t been wonderful real-real examples in our schools for hundreds of years. But the move to personalized learning, the focus on “the 7 C’s”, and the power of technology to allow us to do things not possible before, have really changed the dynamics.
There is no doubt, when working with students or adults, all three experiences will come into play. There is a time for a teacher to be on stage, a time for learners to simulate the experiences of the world, and a time for learners to be part of the real world. The irony is not lost on me that I often present a lecture in a teacher-centric approach to adults championing the value of teacher guided/facilitated learning. And, if you saw the video attached to my last post, it was very much in the “sage on the stage” tradition.
I went into teaching, in part, to replicate the experience I had from the very best teachers in my school. As our world changes, and notions of student engagement change, it is challenging to teach students and adults in ways that run counter to much of what I experienced growing up. This, for me, is one of the great challenges of the profession today – adjusting the practices at the core of who I am as a teacher to better engage students for a world that is not the one of my youth.