Education today exists within a paradox. New pedagogies and technology may have ushered in dramatic changes in the classroom, but core structures of classroom teaching remain unchanged and grossly out of date. The internet has changed how we seek out information. It has also changed how young people learn. Standardised tests may make it easy for countries to track educational progress, but they also put a tremendous amount of pressure on students, and in turn on their teachers.
There are creative teachers out there, determined to help their students, but the current system makes it increasingly difficult for them to apply their creativity. The existing school and classroom structures don’t leave much room for imagination, and technology ends up being used just as another superficial tool. Every revolution begins somewhere. While it’s essential that school structures change, there are things that teachers and educators can do in the meantime to help themselves and their students in embracing change and reimagining education.
Here are five ways you can do it now:
1. The difference between the right way and doing it right
For years we have worked with our cemented beliefs on how knowledge should be imparted: a teacher faces a group of students sitting in rows. We’ve always regarded this setup as the right way to do things. However, we forget that students have agency, which has been further enabled by the internet and social media. This means that students now have various means to find information, and at startling speeds. The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage, imparting their wisdom. So how do we do things right? Teachers need to accept a shift in their role. With so much information on the internet available for students, it’s sometimes difficult to make sure that what they read is always accurate. This is where teachers need to guide students towards reliable, well-known sources of knowledge, teaching them to draw their own logical conclusions. Learning how to use technology correctly has never been more important.
2. Focus on goals rather than method
We know every person learns in a different way. While some students might grasp a concept immediately, others may need more guidance. Similarly, one student might excel in one subject and struggle with another. So how do we make sure that students get a rounded learning experience? By focusing on the learning outcome instead of the method. For years now, we have focused on set ways of teaching students, where the teacher writes on the board while the students study their textbooks. This means that most modern classrooms are actually following a design set to prepare students for the industrial age. The use of technology hasn’t yet changed that process as much as it should – students seem to have simply upgraded to e-books or reading on tablets. A good way to break away from rigid teaching structures is for teachers to experiment with a variety of pedagogies and mediums to see which combination helps students learn in the best possible way. These can include educational films with a flipped classroom or group rotation, contextualising lessons using topical news, and melding practical exercises and projects to theory (think NGSS ).
3. Learning-centered goals
In our previous blog post, we talked about a growth mindset and how to implement it in your classroom. Learning-centered goals fall squarely within a growth mindset territory. Often students struggle under pressure to manage better grades. Most don’t understand why they’re going wrong despite persistent efforts. This leads to loss of belief in one’s ability and eroded confidence. Teachers can help students get around this by focusing on learning outcomes rather than performance outcomes. This might mean allowing your students more time in class to come to their own conclusions, or allowing them some space to struggle with concepts and theories while they try to figure them out. In the case of a student who struggles with a subject or assignment despite their best efforts, a teacher can acknowledge that student’s effort before sitting them down and helping them figure out what they are doing wrong. This kind of approach allows a teacher to give support while simultaneously allowing the student to learn from their own mistakes.
4. A good education is not just limited to curriculum
It comes down to a difference between qualification and education. A good qualification shows that a young person performed well at school, but a good education gives them the skills needed to do well in adult life. Problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively are all vital qualities that employers seek in employees. These skills also heavily contribute to helping young people develop a well-rounded view of the world, helping them to become good citizens. Unfortunately, curriculum doesn’t always cover all the important skills that young people need to learn in life. A teacher keen to provide a good education to their students should take on the responsibility of trying to teach these skills. Luckily, it can be easily done. Encourage class interaction during lessons through open discussions, group assignments and paired project work. For example, a teacher can introduce global warming by assigning a educational film as homework (flipping the classroom in the process), before moving on to an open discussion about the film and what the class understood about the topic. This can then be followed by dividing the class into groups and tasking them to come up with three examples of situations that they think have come about due to global warming. Groups can discuss their findings as a class before the teacher moves on to a more traditional style of lesson.
5. Build links and connections
Thanks to technology, today we are living a world that is intrinsically connected, where grassroots programs such as rooftop gardens can impact global issues such as sustainability or depletion of fossil fuels. NGSS puts an emphasis on teaching young people to become good citizens. The best way to teach students to connect with a bigger community and become better citizens is to let them experience both first hand. Teachers can enlist help from local citizen science organizations to create projects that convert classroom lessons into practical, real-life applications. This helps students learn the practical applications to classroom theory alongside developing important social and communication skills. It also provides them with practical experience and a means to achieve measurable results in what they accomplish in the real world.