Teaching Learning in the 21st Century (@sguditus Steve Guditus)

In his article “The Shift from Teaching Content to TeachingLearning,” Dr. Grant Wiggins suggests that education must focus on students becoming metacognitive about their learning, and educators must ensure that we are explicitly modeling the skills that we want to see our students produce – not just assume they can do it. 
In a world of shifting priorities in education, and where standardized test scores scare educators into teaching to the test, we must remember that one of the most valuable things we can do in education – be it as teacher or student – is to stop; think; and reflect.  Reflection is simple, but it can be momentous and it can be powerful.  When students and educators stop to think about the process of education – and how it relates to their own learning – students take ownership for their learning, better understand their learning styles, and begin to advocate more for themselves.
A little bit of pressure isn’t a bad thing.  We live in a world of priorities and deadlines, and that is ok.  This is reality.  Pressure and priorities is not a bad thing in the world of education, but prioritizing the task of stopping to reflect must too be embedded into the schedule.  If time for reflection is not a priority, it will not get done.  Reflection may be “treated” as an add-on, because we can always continue with the curriculum and classes may continue to chug along.  If, however, we stop, pause and reflect – what do I do well, what did I not do well, what do I need, what would I do differently, where should my focus be – I would make the claim that students would learn more in the long run, and that test scores would not go down – but that test scores would go up.  Why?  When students understand how they learn and take time to reflect upon it, they become more effective and efficient learners who can advocate more for themselves, and educators can better personalize education for students.

In my second year of teaching seventh grade Social Studies, I assigned students the following homework task: Create an outline of Chapter 7, Section 2.  There are a few things that make this assignment weak, but I remember being disappointed the next day when the outlines that came in were of varying degrees of effectiveness, size, color, margins, setup, quality, content and success.  Sadly, I blamed the students at the time.  Why don’t they know how to do this?  Who forgot to teach them this?  Why don’t they know what I want?!  Then I realized: these students are twelve.  No one had yet explicitly taught them how to create an outline – or if they had learned it, my expectations were different and I provided an awful assignment and little expectation to students.  Wiggins claims, and I agree with him, that we must teach students how to learn – by providing the scaffolding to create structure around expectations, and help students learn the skills they need – not just assume they possess them already.  Yes, some students may possess these skills already (such as ‘how to create an outline’), but not all do and we must provide structure and scaffolding so all students can grow and improve.

How can you develop a focus on teaching learning in your classroom, as well as content?  Consider the following tips below.

  • Make reflection a priority in your schedule.
  • Ask students questions about the learning process.  Use this information to help students build self-awareness and advocacy skills.  Use this information as an educator to drive your instruction.
    • How do I learn?
    • Where am I a strong student?  Where are areas of weakness?
    • What do I need from my teacher?
    • What can I improve to be a more successful student?
  • Help students set goals.  Use this as practice to teach students learning – the process of goal-writing. 
  • Share your own goals to model an ongoing, reflective process.
  • Unwrap assignments into chunks and pieces.  Explain all of them.  Vertically remove support as the year (and grades) progress to make students more independent and learn the skills they need over time.
  • Consider flipping parts of your classroom.  Provide a video to watch for homework on “creating an outline,” and then in class, provide support and feedback to students while they practice the skill.
  • Develop and use rubrics to provide feedback to students – not just on content, but in other areas as well: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication.
  • Work with colleagues to identify the wide-reaching, interdisciplinary skills that can cross content areas.
  • Develop interdisciplinary units with colleagues to help students grow and develop these skills.

We must teach the whole child.  Gone are the days of “I teach subject X.”  For the sake of our students, we must shift from teaching to learning.  All educators must help students grow and develop reading, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity skills.  Instead of teaching subject X to students, we must teach students and help them develop these skills, using subject X to do so. 

“We move from being “teachers” to coaches of learning.” – Grant Wiggins


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