We are thrilled to have Richard Wells as a guest poster on our blog. We hope you enjoy his thoughts on student-centered learning as much as we do.
What makes a good parent? It’s always impressive when you visit a friend to find their children taking responsibility for tasks at home without being asked. A tidy bedroom can be enough to impress some, while a child who makes their own lunch can seriously surprise many hard working parents who find themselves making numerous sandwiches every morning. High expectations presented at an early stage within a household become normalised and children simply accept them. Children naturally feel an integral part of any environment that expects them to be so and recognises them as such. Engagement in these family tasks increases further when they are also involved in deciding what and how things are done best. Making your school lunch is not as much a chore if you don’t expect it to be your parent’s job in the first place. You also benefit from improving your own menu. So what does this mean to education?
Keeping the Faith
School leaders are always pleased to enroll the more independent children and should consider what happens in homes to develop this and thus what it might mean for their school. To improve educational outcomes for all children, it’s schools’ responsibility to develop environments that have these higher expectations and hand over increasing responsibility to the learners as to when, how and even what takes place to make the most of the school’s programmes. This, however, means schools must set these expectations from day one and issue the tools with which these expectations can be monitored and met. Where content, schedule and outcome are predetermined by teachers, education is reduced to the box-ticking and following standardised behavioural formulae. Like parent-driven households, traditional schools use teacher-driven learning that constrains children from developing independent executive skills that employers and parents both hope for. It’s time to have more faith in children and develop new norms for who holds responsibility for learning and how objectives can be achieved.
Technology itself is not the answer.
We have been told for over a century that ‘new technology’ was going to solve all educational needs. But if the expectation remains that the teacher is responsible for how technology will achieve the objectives, important steps in the process of learning are bypassed and each learner’s thoughts focus on completing rather than thinking critically and recognising themselves as an individuals in the process. Schools need to shift organisational practice and structures so that students don’t feel they arrive at school each morning with the next 6 hours already determined by the teachers. The introduction of internet technologies and the birth of website-based school Learning Management Systems (LMS) are a classic example of technology reworked as the same teacher-driven, pre-defined, one-way approach to learning. Most LMS use is that of teachers digitally formatting the traditional approach and pushing out standardised tasks from completion.
Technology should not be seen as another opportunity for teachers to assign work, have it completed and submitted. Technology is best utilised as an opportunity to allow students to take charge and responsibility for their learning. Technology offers an individual an array of tools and in doing so allows schools to expect students to practice the planning and production of outcomes that best display their talents. The flexibility technology offers learners should mean a school can demand students make the most of this but against appropriate timeframes and success criteria. Young people need to practice making these decisions for themselves about time, information, process and outcome.
I am my own Learning Management System
In many countries, increasing numbers of schools are starting to make allowances for the development of these executive skills. The old rigid timetables are being opened up to give longer time slots to allow students to arrange their own time within them. Days of the week are also arranged differently in some schools and students need to be able to manage their time accordingly. Demanding that students plan their own week only makes for a more resilient generation of learners, a resilience we have traditionally had to develop after our school years.
Like good parents, schools need to stop making all the day’s decisions for students and issuing non-negotiable tasks. To develop the independence they want to see in young people, a student-centered approach shifts the focus of conversations amongst all members of the school community towards the students’ process and organisation of learning. If the learning environment across the whole community expects students to manage and report on their own progress against criteria and curriculum that they don’t just accept but make suggestions on, then that’s what young people will do.
Learn, unlearn and relearn
Developing lifelong learners means teachers become mentors for learning. The classroom conversations had by teachers and students need to be focused on critical thinking, problem solving, goal setting, time management, and success analysis. Learning is a social, two-way process of reciprocal feedback. Schools need tools that accommodate this truth about learning. Tools that are flexible, personal, and help learning conversations in school and at home.