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Rethinking How Students Learn: Teach Less, Learn More

I know, this blog is turning into the “Rethinking How Students Learn” blog lately. My apologies, but I like reflecting on what I’m reading and I hope you’re enjoying reading the posts. By all means, don’t be passive; chime in with some comments if you please.

The country of Singapore has undertaken a massive initiative, with four key “visions,” that will help them take education to the next level – “21st century learning.” They are:

  1. Thinking Schools, Learning Nation.
  2. Teach Less, Learn More.
  3. Tight, Loose, Tight.
  4. Professional Learning Communities (as discussed in my last post)

“Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” is about fostering in students a core set of life skills (thinking, creating, problem solving, collaboration, wonderment, tolerance for ambiguity, and persistence). “Wonderment” and “tolerance for ambiguity” are two characteristics not often included in 21st century skills, but I find them intriguing – and may just have to revisit them in a future post!

The “Teach Less, Learn More” is closely related to the first vision and promotes “teaching in ways that help students learn without being taught.” It seems paradoxical at first glance; how will my students learn if I don’t teach them? The truth is, when we provide students an essential question and allow them to explore the potential answers, we are building in them skills that will make them lifelong learners. As stated in the book:

The change process is about evolutionary thinking, not revolutionary thinking, and it all begins with critical collaborative conversations. While their system has traditionally compartmentalized the curriculum by disciplines that honor quantity…they find that this structure can be deliberately shifted to…honor the quality of student outcomes.

“Tight Loose Tight,” is also very intriguing approach. According to the authors of this chapter, Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete:

The T-L-T formula combines an adherence to central design principles (tight) with expected accommodations to the needs, resources, constraints, and particularities that occur in any school or district (loose), when these don’t conflict with the theoretical framework (tight) and, ultimately, with the stated goals and desired results.

The best part of the T-L-T philosophy is the message that schools CAN evolve without sacrificing the educational philosophy and characteristics that have defined them in years past. As a school, we can still promote rigorous learning, quality leadership skills, and compassionate service to others. We just have to figure out how to do it in a 21st century context – for our students’ sakes.

That’s where the PLC (the fourth Singaporean vision) comes into play. If we (the teachers) work together as a team, through various scopes and methods, we can achieve success for our students, our school community, state, nation, and the world.

With our help, Heritage Hall students will continue to learn, to lead, and to serve…the world…in the 21st Century and beyond.

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Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for EVERYONE

I just came across this video that really makes me feel good about where we’re going with things on our campus. I just had to share.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Howard Gardner

One mind is not enough. It takes five minds to be successful.

This according to Howard Gardner, author of many books, including Five Minds for the Future. Gardner was selected to write the first chapter of 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. I found his comments very interesting, and look forward to reading his books in the not-to-distant future. Here are some of the stand-out points I gathered from this selection.

How can we create well-rounded citizens of the future? Howard Gardner says we can give them Five Minds.

Gardner says that there are five minds that educators should strive to cultivate in the future:

  1. The Disciplined Mind
  2. The Synthesizing Mind
  3. The Creating Mind
  4. The Respectful Mind
  5. The Ethical Mind

The Disciplined Mind. Gardner states that there are two connotations in play regarding this mind. There is discipline, as in art, craft, scholarly pursuit, or profession. And then there is discipline, referring to a continuation of practice and hard work to remain at the top of one’s game. Interestingly, he stresses four disciplines for precollegiate institutions to focus on: math, science, history, and at least one art form. It’s not about mastering the content of these disciplines, but rather the skills. Can you think like a scientist? Do you analyze like a historian? Can you appreciate fine art? Gardner says that in previous times, mastery and refinement of a single discipline may have sufficed; however, in today’s world, “mastery of more than one discipline is at a premium.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to think in different ways.

The Synthesizing Mind. In the Age of Info-whelm, our students are bombarded by information 24/7. As Gardner says, “Shrewd triage becomes an imperative.” Those who develop a synthesizing mind will rise to the top. Synthesizing is not a one-time process according to Gardner; “new information must be acquired, probed, evaluated, followed up with, or sidelined…there is constant reflection and tinkering.” Good synthesizers always keep an eye on the big picture while securing and arranging the smaller details in useful ways; “one must know what works for himself and for those who make use of his synthesis.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to make use of information and media in meaningful ways.

The Creating Mind. In order to truly acquire a creating mind, one must first develop an adequate level of disciplinary mastery and some capacity to synthesize. Gardner states, “You can’t think outside the box unless you have a box.” Creators must take risks, tackle the unknown, fail, and then fearlessly try again. Creators are motivated by, and keep their eyes on, the prize. Educators must pose challenges, obstacles, and boulders to their students. According to Gardner, if the Disciplined Mind involves depth and the Synthesizing Mind entails breadth, the Creating Mind features stretch. Bottom line: We must help our students learn constructively and in innovative ways, to solve never before seen problems.

The Respectful Mind. Gardner says, this mind “starts with an assumption that diversity is positive and the world would be a better place if individuals sought to respect one another.” Bottom line: We must help our students appreciate the ideas, methods, culture, and values of others in the world.

The Ethical Mind. According to Gardner, a person who has an ethical mind can think of himself or herself abstractly and ask questions about their own quality of life. What kind of worker do I want to be? What kind of citizen am I? What would the world be like if everyone too the stance I do? What happens as a result of my decisions or actions? Bottom line: We need to teach our kids to think abstractly, make predictions about outcomes, and weigh their options against what they know is right or wrong.

In conclusion, Gardner names the Synthesizing Mind as the most important for the 21st century. He goes on to states that integration of all five minds is more likely to occur, and more quickly, when role models – parents, teachers, coaches – regularly display aspects of discipline, synthesis, creation, respect, and ethics.

The (Ultimate) Bottom Line: Show your students how you use all five of your minds.