I have long ascribed to the paradigm of constructivism when it comes to teaching and learning. Constructivism says that:
“people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience, maybe changing what we believe, or maybe discarding the new information as irrelevant. In any case, we are active creators of our own knowledge. To do this, we must ask questions, explore, and assess what we know”.
However, during some deep reflection following our debate this week, I have realized my practice does not always match my theory.
This week’s debate topic was should schools not focus on teaching things that can be Googled. Two teams presented their thoughts; Team Agree found here and Team Disagree found here. At first I aligned myself with Team Disagree, but based on the discussion during the debate, I decided to swing in the opposite direction during the post-vote and side with Team Agree. However, similarly to last week’s discussion, I actually fall in the middle when it comes to this topic. This makes sense as there was significant overlap in what the two sides were arguing.
To start, let me just say that yes, I do think kids need to memorize their multiplication tables. I’m not sure I will change my mind about this, at least in the foreseeable future.
Now that that is out of the way…
I think Team Agree made some important points right off the hop. First, that knowledge is changing faster than ever and that knowledge is more accessible than ever. The value of knowledge is decreasing while the access to knowledge is growing. I am going to refer again to the Future Work Skills 2020 document that I have mentioned in previous posts (here and here). When I first saw this document last semester, I admit I found it difficult to think about how I am and can be teaching these skills. They seemed so daunting. If it true that 65% of our students future jobs do not currently exist today, it is extremely pressing that teachers are thinking about how these skills can be manifested in the classroom. My classmate Joe explores a similar discussion in his blog post.
In order for this to happen, the gap between the real-world and the goings-on in classrooms must bridge. If I don’t know something, I Google it. I look for an article or video. Why then, is it so bizarre for some to think that students shouldn’t be afforded the same real-world applications of the technology that is available to them?
If knowledge is more accessible than ever, using technology such as Google becomes a necessary tool to learn to navigate. And if skills like those below are expected in the work place of the future, then education needs significant nudge in the digital direction.
As Pavan Arora states in this video, teaching students creativity is paramount and this can happen by teaching them how to access knowledge, assess knowledge and apply knowledge. This is the first step in learning sense-making which leads to an increased understanding in the other future work skills. Team Agree also indicated that:
Students need to learn how to make choices, collaborate, communicate, think critically and be creative
which are all critical to the success of students as they gain competencies for the future. Deeply embedded here is understandings of digital / media literacy. (My classmate Channing describes these critical skills in more detail in her blog post). This constructivist lens allows students to move from passive to active learners and be engaged in the process of learning rather than listening to their teacher at the front of the room. I think back to my experience last semester in EC&I 832 and the learning that took place for me in that space. My learning was guided by our instructor Alec through discussion and teacher access and through collaboration, co-creation and leadership with classmates. I was afforded the opportunity to choose my own path and construct my learning in a meaningful, relevant way.
If I can have the freedom to learn through guided inquiry in my grad studies classroom, how does that understanding translate to my own teaching practice? How can we re-conceptualize our understanding of learning in which the process is more important than the product? How can I re-conceptualize this focus on process in an early elementary classroom? This is the part I find tricky. It is easy for me to see how this type of learning happens in middle years, high school and post-secondary education. In many ways I can see how this happens for young elementary students as well, but less so. It is easy to see this type of learning happen for older students because they have been taught the foundations and computer skills in earlier grades.
With this in mind, I tend to take on a bit of the Team Disagree perspective. Team Disagree argued that learning should include a variety of tools and skills. They cited Bloom’s taxonomy indicating that lower level thinking is the basis of higher level thinking and knowledge application
Within Bloom’s taxonomy, there are many important skills being taught in primary classrooms which allow for students to gain the deeper understanding needed for the apply, analyze, evaluate and create levels of thinking that are required in the Future Works Skills 2020.
One article stated that students “should learn at a very early stage of ‘schooling’ that learning how to learn is largely their responsibility — with the help they seek but that is not imposed on them” (I often say to my students, “I can teach you, but learning is a choice”). I agree with this statement, but while deeper levels of understanding are certainly important, part of learning how to learn is also learning to listen, view, read, write, remember, understand, etc. which are perhaps now being considered more basic skills.
As a primary teacher, I find some barriers to teaching through guided inquiry via educational technology. There is always is issue of access and time. With only 5 devices in the classroom, it takes a looonnngg time to complete any project with young people especially when the access to devices are limited in a classroom of 27 students. Further, at a young age their independence is also limited. At the beginning of the year, we spend a considerable amount of time learning to operate the computer and login. It is hard to imagine how we will learn to evaluate sources and use a variety of tech tools when we barely know how to use the device itself. We spend so much time learning how to use the devices in the classroom that I am often (perhaps unnecessarily) concerned about the valuable curriculum time we are losing. Even though I know that learning to use the device is essential for all of the deeper understandings that are to come. I suppose the answer to this is baby steps…but figuring out the logistics of planning for process-style constructivst learning is currently personally challenging (not that I don’t want to try!). I am still in the process of figuring out what this type of learning looks like for my learners in the place we are in and with the tools we have access to.
When it comes to the debate about whether teachers should teach subject matter than can be Googled or not, I think it is important to return to the word balance. Instead of doing one or the other, it is critical to find a good balance point in that the teacher teaches skills and multi/media-literacies combined with subject matter content. It is important to note that neither team discounted the role of the teacher; both sides considered the teacher as a crucial part of education. Our class also acknowledged that teachers cannot tackle these major educational paradigm shifts alone; professional development and support is crucial.
This post was difficult for me to write this week because I wasn’t entirely sure what my stance was. I didn’t know whether we should be teaching information that can be Googled or not. I am still quite conflicted. Thinking about this topic flips a lot of what we think we know about education on its head.
I have already started trying new things in my classroom and changing my pedagogy to match my theoretical understandings of education. I am trying to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world outside of it. So, while I am not entirely sure where I stand in regards to the debate topic this week, what I do know is that the Future Work Skills 2020 aren’t going to be obtained by continuing with the curriculum and pedagogy that we currently have.
As Alec said during our last class, we need to move students from knowledgeable to knowledge-able. This video is worth 18 minutes of your time, I promise!
P.S. My classmate Nicole expressed similar thoughts in her blog post, check it out!