Blog Archives

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.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Chris Dede

Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:

Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.

Will your students fit IN the box, or think OUTSIDE of it?

Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?

Dede goes on:

…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.

Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.

I love the comparison Dede makes next:

Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.

Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:

The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.

The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).

In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.

To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…

How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?