I am sitting here at my laptop, occasionally watching my Skype and Tweetdeck notifications in case I miss something from a family member or colleague, and I’m going to honestly tell you that learning in the 21st century is not about the technology. Blasphemy! my tech-savvy friends are saying. Six months ago I might have agreed, but today I’m more than willing to stand by my words.
We are hearing more and more talk recently about what learning and teaching will look like in the 21st century. What do we need to bring us into the future? What will our children need to know and be able to do? The first thing to comes to everyone’s mind is technology. We need computers. We need ipods. We need wireless connectivity. We need 1:1 initiatives. We need blogs, wikis and podcasts. While I completely agree with the fact that these are innovative tools for teaching and learning, I do not agree that these are the first things we need to initiate change in our classrooms.
Before anything else, the educational community (including state and national organizations, teacher preparation programs, and local systems) must recognize the need to change an overall approach to teaching and learning. The tools mentioned earlier, like netbooks, 1:1 initiatives, and web 2.0 tools, will not be effective vehicles for instruction without an evolution in mindset. Here is a list of four things that every teacher must recognize in order to effectively and positively impact students in a new generation of learning.
1. Teachers must be learners. As teachers, most of us have completed a specialised teacher preparation program. We have passed a test of proficiency in basic educational theory and child psychology. We have demonstrated mastery of our own content areas. Think about the teachers in your building. The years that these teachers have exited these initial requirements span decades. If you put them all in one room, you will probably find that their experiences in these areas were very different. Yet, they are all teaching children today. Teachers today must be perpetual learners who are invested in their professions. We must be up to date on current trends, research and tools. We must know what our students are doing and where they are coming from when they enter our classrooms. This learning cannot just include mandated workshops and occasional required readings. Teachers who want to be truly succesful must be voracious and self-motivated in their pursuit of evoloving understanding.
2. Learning and Teaching are not the same thing. How many times have we heard a colleague say, “I don’t know why these kids don’t get it. I’ve taught it a hundred times.” I equate teaching and learning to a basic physics principle. If an object does not move, no matter how much force has been applied, no work has been done. Therefore, if a student has not learned, not matter how much effort has been exerted, no teaching has been done. Teaching in the 21st century is going to be about working smarter and not harder. It is not about adding to our proverbial plates. We must look at learning as the product of a successful day. Learning will not look the same to all students or all teachers, but it must be the goal.
3. Technology is useless without good teaching. We have countless technological tools at our disposable today. These tools range in cost from free to thousands and thousands of dollars. When we put innovative tools in the hands of innovative teachers, amazing things can happen. If you put these tools in the hands of teachers who are not willing to innovate, money has been wasted. There are arguments against spending the money on interactive whiteboards for classrooms. At approximately $5000 each, you would think these boards would facilitate better teaching. It is not about the board. It is about proper training and mindset of a teacher who is already willing and eager to do amazing things. The lack of comprehensive and curriculum-related professional development for teachers is why schools have thousands of computers that are being used as game systems and word processors.
1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes
2. Learning and Innovation Skills
* Creativity and Innovation
* Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
* Communication and Collaboration
3. Information, Media and Technology Skills
* Information Literacy
* Media Literacy
* ICT Literacy
4. Life and Career Skills
Upon careful consideration, these are outcomes that can be achieved with little technology (excluding of course some components of the Information, Media and Technology Skills). If a teacher can find ways to prepare students with the capacity to be creative and innovative, those children will be well prepared to face the future. Teachers who customize the learning experiences of their students to involve critical thinking and problem solving are doing their students a greater favor than those who misuse technology as a means of facilitating learning. Those teachers who know how to foster communication and collaboration within their classrooms and school buildings are equipping their students with the abilities to apply these core skills to more areas in their own lives.
Now imagine a classroom where the teacher has embraced these principles. The teacher is a learner. The teacher teaches with learning in mind. 21st century skills are highlighted through facilitative leadership. These foundational components of a quality classroom experience will ensure that students value experiential and focused learning. Now if you take this teacher and introduce them to the wonders that technology offers for students, the possibilities are endless. But, it really is not about the technology.