If you have been through a college class you have probably gone through this. You find yourself studying all night, pouring over the books, using flash cards, and reading through your sloppy notes that were taken in a hurry as your professor rambled through his/her lecture. Then you woke up the next day (or you just stayed up all night), went to class, took the final (hopefully passing it) and proceeded to forget everything you remembered from the night before. I would say that there was learning going on in those situations but maybe not in the same way that you might think. I would say that you learned that sometimes you have to buckle down and work hard through something that you might not want to. I would say that you learned that you have to meet deadlines to be successful. I would say that you learned the value of finishing something in route to accomplishing something bigger. But I would not say that you genuinely learned a ton about whatever subject you just crammed for. That is not to say that all college classes are like this because I know that many of mine were so much more significant and provided great learning opportunities. However, this scenario brings to mind the notion of learning and the shift that must take place in our education system.
Tony Wagner is a Harvard Professor and author whose research has been focused on American education, how it compares globally, and what we need to do to improve our system to sustain our country's level of success. In his book, "Creating Innovators" Wagner points to the fact that information memorization is not learning in the 21st century. Students can google or easily research any subject they wish. His call to American institutions is to teach our students what to do with the information, how to qualify it, and how to be innovative with our vast amount of resources.
Tony Wagner has spent hours in U.S. schools and Universities studying classrooms that allow for students to be innovative, creative, and independent. He adamantly states that if our schools do not teach students 21st century skills (which include communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) we will be at a competitive disadvantage globally. Think about the job market today. How many of our service and labor jobs are off shore? That is not to say that those kinds of jobs don't exist in the United States, but in every industry we need to teach our students the skills it takes to be successful in our ever changing economic model.
The United States has not scored incredibly well on international test in the last decade. Our education system has not scored in the top ten in quite sometime (the credibility of these tests are up for debate). However, countries who outscore the United States on these test continue to come and observe classes. The reason is because the United States is home to creativity and innovation. Last year at Minarets we had visitors from China and Singapore. This is what we must continue to do to be competitive and successful. The world has changed and education must continue to evolve to ensure that our students are prepared for the rapidly changing global economy. That does not mean that every student will become an inventor or a scientist. It means that our children will have the skills to work in a variety of fields as the job market changes.
The shift is not easy. Students who have grown up in a system where multiple choice tests rather than skills based assessments determine their success level. That is why we see students getting frustrated when teachers challenge them to find an answer using through inquiry. Students perception of learning is linked to memorization more than creation. Students often feel like they are not "learning" when the teacher is not lecturing but rather moving throughout the classroom as a guide, while the students are producing. Students also run into difficulties transitioning to digital learning at first, because rather than the book guiding their learning, they are challenged to think outside the textbook. However, this shift is happening and it will prove to be more relevant to the world around our students.
Think about your experience in the work world. Ultimately, most of us work in jobs where we were forced to learn on the job. There was no textbook, lecture, or multiple choice test that would have prepared us for it. This is another reason why students need to learn by doing and thinking without being given the answer right away. This gives them a learn on the job mentality and will better prepare them to take that approach in the workplace.
The truth is that there will always be core educational practices that will not change over time. A good teacher could teach with a stick and a rock. We cannot throw out core educational practices for trends . We still need to be rigorous, we still need assessments to measure growth, we still need to teach students how to read and write proficiently, and we still need teachers to be leaders in the classroom. However, teachers and schools must adapt to the world around them by asking the students to be critical thinkers and produce. The world is changing and education must change with it to ensure the success of our students. Leading is Teaching.