I’ve been back to school today after a long and relaxing summer break, during which I have been giving a lot of thought to the strategies I will need to engage my students and enhance teaching and learning in my classroom in this new academic year.
In the process, I have been getting quite frustrated comparing the pace at which things have changed outside the classroom but, paradoxically, not inside them. There is no shortage of luminaries who are quick to point out the obvious, which is that educational theory seems to have been changing much faster than educational practice and to highlight what is wrong with the way we do education.
It’s all, of course, true. The classroom is quickly becoming a foreign place for the student. For a start, everywhere else they are encouraged to socialize, be it physically or online. But not in the classroom, where a word to a friend can land them in detention. Everywhere else they are free to experiment and be creative. But not in the classroom, where they have to do as they’re told or else face the head of year.
The teacher has been slow to adapt to these changes. As a profession, we still seek to impart the knowledge we acquired from books and from our own teachers in the same way our own teachers did: teaching flows one way. We still see the student as an empty vessel we and only we can fill with knowledge. We still see ourselves as the source of all wisdom and our pupils ought to know to shut up and listen carefully to what we know, because we say so, regardless of how little relevance it may have in their lives.
The fact, however, is that we are no longer the source of all wisdom. Students now have hundreds of channels to choose from on their television – BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, National Geographic, History Channel – all offering high quality educational content that makes young eyes pop with amazement and sheer joy.
Most importantly, they have that essential tool we didn’t have when we were students: they have their computers. And with them comes the internet, which is quickly establishing itself as the real source of all knowledge.
Should we teachers feel usurped by these giants of information? Should we try to compete with them?
The answer is most emphatically no. The likes of Amazon and Ebay were instrumental in forcing a major restructuring and rethinking of high street sales strategies in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Similarly, we have to accept that our students are perfectly capable of accessing information from a number of sources outside school, outside our control. School no longer has the monopoly on knowledge.
The role of the teacher therefore has to change from simply imparting knowledge to a passive recipient to facilitating the acquisition of knowledge in a partnership of mentor and student. Teachers need to realise the learning goes both ways and that they most definitely don’t know everything… and that’s ok. Teaching needs to become more collaborative and constructive, better able to create an atmosphere of trust between the teacher and the student, where the latter feels that if they don’t know something, the former will help them learn about it, using whichever of the means at their disposal, and where the sharing of knowledge and wisdom can take place.
As I have stated before, I object to being told the obvious wrapped in clever sound bites. I have an intrinsic dislike of the do as I say but not as I do, so I will therefore not preach, pontificate or lecture about revolution. I shall focus on what I can do as an individual to achieve some of the changes I would like to see in the way we do education and hope that I am doing the right thing. I shall concentrate on achievable goals:
- I shall use my subject blog to showcase pupil’s work and achievements, as well as to deliver educational content and as a means of communication.
- I shall use internet tools to engage and motivate students, as well as allowing them to work collaboratively to produce a tangible outcome they can own and of which they can feel proud.
- I shall improve the way I communicate with my pupils by using a Ning network linked to my online interactive exercises.
- I shall use podcasting as both a way to deliver educational content to my pupils and I will explore podcasting as a means for my pupils to deliver work back to me, which can then be showcased and set as an example for other pupils.
- I shall trial the use of microblogging as a teaching tool.
In short, there are principally two areas which I would like to develop this year: engaging students and improving communication as a way of taking teaching beyond the classroom.As you can see, my objectives are hardly groundbreaking, hardly Earth shattering stuff… but at least I am doing my bit.
As anyone who has ever taught or worked in a school knows, it takes a huge effort to get things off the ground and even greater sustained effort to keep the momentum going. So this year I am getting my hands dirty, diving in head first and hopefully discovering along the way new and/or improved ways of using technology in the classroom to deliver a curriculum which is, not only relevant to the students, but is also delivered in a way they find accessible, engaging and motivating.
Wish me luck!