Why School? Why we have to rethink teaching


Teaching | Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why School? Why we have to rethink teaching

Why School?

The world is changing. Education must, too. Teachers must be able to learn, unlearn and relearn. Here are some ways we can do that.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write.

“The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” — Herbert Gerjuoy (paraphrased by Alvin Toffler)

If teachers can’t do this, education is headed for irrelevance. Quickly.

Education is ubiquitous. You can learn from so many places these days: a YouTube video, an online article, a free web-based course, a social media site.

In years past, teachers had a corner on the market. If you wanted an education, you needed to come to school to get it.

Times have changed.

Now, we live in the information age. Students can Google topics from class and can discover facts and concepts that we as teachers don’t know. (That’s not to say we’re not well educated, thorough educators. It just shows how broad and deep the Internet is.)

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide high-level education — often what we would spend thousands of dollars to get in college — for free.

Education has changed. Teaching needs to change. And as teachers, we need to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Will Richardson wrote a book called “Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere”. It’s an excellent short read that’s a bargain for $1.99 (as of the publication of this post) for Kindle on Amazon.

This summer, I read it and my mind began spinning with ways I could change the way I teach. Some ways, I realized, weren’t relevant and needed updating.

I was learning, unlearning and relearning.

Here are a couple lessons I learned from “Why School?”:

Share everything.

Who shares their best practices and best thinking online?

Richardson asked the audience this at an educational technology conference this summer. (In fact, he probably asks this all over the country and world on a regular basis.)

[RELATED: Influence. 8 ways to harness it in the classroom]

I could raise my hand this summer thanks to this blog, but last summer I couldn’t.

The Web is a powerful place to share. To show what you think, say and do. And to actually have people read what you write. (I wrote about the power of sharing before.)

Everyone has something to say. A voice. Experiences. Your perspective is different from mine.

Share it.

Let others grow from your experiences, because you know that you grew when others shared theirs with you.

Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum

Richardson visited Larry Rosenstock, the founder of High Tech High, an innovative school in San Diego. Rosenstock suggested a shift from telling kids what to learn and telling them when and how to learn it. It smothers their passion for learning and doesn’t develop the ability to guide their own learning.

After reading this, one of my first thoughts was: this fits wonderfully for some content areas, not so easily for others.

I teach high school Spanish. Learning a new language has many similarities to improving in sports, music or any other skill. It takes lots of relevant practice.

So, when learning Spanish often feels a lot like shooting free throws to improve, where is the discovery? One place I’m finding it is in custom vocabulary — they help pick the new words we learn based on what’s interesting to them.

Another is the curriculum within the curriculum. We learn, practice and use certain words and grammatical structures in every unit. But as we practice, there’s lots of flexibility in what we talk and write about. As long as we practice — as long as we “shoot the free throws” — our discussion in Spanish can center on whatever we want.

Think about how students can discover curriculum in your classes. What comes to mind? And how can you share — or have you shared? Let us know in a comment below!

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  • John Bennett says:

    From above: “Teaching needs to change. And as teachers, we need to learn, unlearn and relearn.” AND: Teachers must facilitate their students developing the skills to learn, unlearn and relearn!!! ‘Developing the skills’ must include the practice necessary for them to become habitual for the students.

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