Teachers, the World is Changing… Your Instruction Must Change With It.
No one can deny that the world is different than it was when our current educational system was designed. With this in mind, what are WE (myself included) suppose to do to help our students thrive in a world that is vastly different than the environment in our classrooms?
Frankly the answer is simple… Change the way we teach.
Is the answer that simple? You bet it is!
Is it really that easy? No.
Changing the way you teach is hard. Not just from the standpoint of preparation, but also from the lens of the students that have learned a specific way for many years, regardless of its effectiveness.
So what do we as teachers need to consider… and what do we need to do?
Just as with a shift in any sort of thinking, the first thing we need to do is accept that what we are currently doing may not be what is best.
Phew! Now that we have that off of our chests, let’s consider some of the elements of today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce that should be elements (not necessarily the center) of our classrooms and instruction and how they can be added to enhance student learning in a manner that reflects the real world.
Element #1: Speed
The rate of change in today’s society is faster and continuing to accelerate. Whether it is related to Moore’s Law (the computational ability of computer chips) or the frequency of new trends (remember “Dabbing” or “flossing” or whatever came next), we have to accept that change is happening and it is happening fast!
When it comes to considering how speed can be implemented into the classroom, we can think about it, not as a change in instruction, but in the rate of feedback and iteration. The faster we can provide information about a student’s performance on a task, the more likely the student is to modify what they do for the next iteration.
Consider the amount of “likes” a person would get on a picture. The number of likes the get before they post a new picture will influence what they do next. If the picture they just posted did well, they will continue with whatever they did. However, if it did not get likes, something would be changed before they post again! It is unlikely that they would look back at pictures of a year ago for feedback on what they should do now.
Ultimately this comes down to the idea that faster feedback allows for a more immediate shift in thinking and a faster redirection or correction of errors.
Element #2: Creativity
As a student, I will admit that I LOVED worksheets. They had instructions, were easy to understand, and didn’t require me to think very hard to get the right answers. However, in the real world, we don’t get instructions… and are tasked with completing tasks that DO require one to think critically about the solution, if there is a solution at all!
It appears that worksheets didn’t really help me develop an understanding of how to tackle unknown challenges, which is ultimately the crux of any real work challenge.
This element could have very easily been entitled “Critical Thinking,” but like every one of my students, no one knows what that really means. I like to think about critical thinking as “creatively solving problems.” Not as catchy, but helps students more effectively evaluate if they are learning the skill.
So how does one integrate this element into the classroom…..? Project-based Learning (PBL) is a new instructional style that drives home the entire Design Thinking (more buzzwords) process to help students learn and develop a product that showcases what they learned through the process.
If you are ready for PBL then go for it! However, many are not ready to combine instruction with project construction. A simpler way to approach a way for integrating creativity is to teach a lesson(s) as you previously would, but add time for students to show their knowledge in a different way.
Simply by asking students to “create something that shows me everything you learned,” you will have created an opportunity for students to have to consider how to articulate their learning. Combining this with a rubric (non-project type specific) will ensure that an assessment of content is still possible.
An added BONUS to this strategy will be that students who gravitate to technology will seek to create innovative products with the resources you have available. But DON’T BE SCARED as since this is self-selected by the student, you don’t have to be a master at that technology. It is just another chance for students to explore and learn through the creation process.
Element #3: Connectivity
It is more apparent that students rarely do something just for themselves. That is not to say that students still don’t read, but when you watch your students, much of their preferred activities relate to connecting with others.
I don’t want to get into a debate regarding the efficiency of screentime and externally motivated self-work and I do realize that these ideas need attention. However, much work done today is done for someone else. Whether it is my lesson for students or a software update for users, the end result of a product is often for an audience.
Extending the conversation of creativity would be to consider how students can share their work with an authentic audience. Once again, this pair nicely with the capstone experience of a PBL unit, but as before, let's assume that this is not a direction you are moving.
If you are having students do a project, you can add a higher feel of accountability and responsibility for having students publish or present their results. To certain regard, this circles back to feedback, as the audience will have a reaction and that reaction matters to students. It is easy to turn in sub-standard work if you know that no one will see it, but when you have to stand beside your work and own the result, a higher effort is sure to occur.
Ideas for implementation may be as simple as peer to peer presentations and can be expanded to presentations to experts in an associated field. More public methods could be posting a Youtube video or creating a published website to share what was discovered.
Depending on the age of the student, you can consider whether to allow comments on videos and website publications. It is always a safe call to only allow “Likes” if possible, but more real to open up options for feedback.
Conclusion: Little logistical changes lead to more genuine learning.
Much of what I shared above isn’t revolutionary. Teachers have always sought to provide quality feedback and create learning opportunities that engage students in an authentic way. The difference is in the “modern” presentation of each of those elements.
While each may be able to function independently, the function best together. This is because they function that way in the real world.
Seek to provide feedback to your students faster and more frequently, focus on cultivating opportunities for creativity, and hold students accountable for the work they do in authentic ways.
This sure sounds like a work environment that focuses on improvement and helps develop new skills as new challenges come about. That is also how I want my classroom to feel to my students.
My name is Andrew Julian and I am a teacher of science, computer science, and technology. I have a passion for considering how technology can positively impact a classroom and the education of all students.
Check out my website at andrewjohnjulian.com for more information.
For more about my classroom instruction or my foray into AR/VR development, you can read my Medium articles, a few of which are found below. Thanks!