How Classrooms Can Become More Learner Focused

As we venture further into the world of educational innovation, the most common theme that appears all over the place is that education systems should be designed from the perspective of the learner. Currently, as I’ve written in a recent blogpost, education is designed from the top, often by policy makers and bureaucrats, with little attention paid to the students’ opinions, needs and wants. Most of all, the current system aims to educate without inculcating a culture of learning, which in turn results in all the deficiencies and problems that we come across today.

However, while we can all agree that a culture of learning is important, what are the elements of this culture? I came across a blogpost by George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for PSD70, which listed eight elements of a classroom that would create a conducive atmosphere for learners:

1. Voice – Students should have the opportunity to not only learn from others but also share their learning with others as well. We live in a world where everyone has a voice and if we do not teach our students to use this effectively, they will definitely struggle. To me, this is so simple yet so essential.

2. Choice – This is not only about how students learn, but also what they learn about. How do they further their learning in areas of interests to them? Throughout the first few years of university I did poorly, yet in my final few years my grades were better than they ever had been. What was the difference? I actually cared what I was learning about. Strengths based learning is extremely important.

3. Time for Reflection – Classrooms are an extremely busy place and I understand that many feel that they are rushed through the curriculum, but I think that taking the time to connect and reflect on what is being learned gives learners a better opportunity to really understand what they have learned. I know many classrooms have DEAR time (drop everything and read), so why do we not have time to simply write and reflect? This is not only for students, but for teachers and administrators as well.

4. Opportunities for Innovation – Recently I visited Greystone Centennial Middle School during “Innovation Week” and saw students that created a hovercraft (not kidding) using things that they had around the house. They were able to guide it around the gym and it was able to carry people around. These kids were in grade 9.

When I asked the students about this opportunity, they had told me that they had saw something similar on YouTube but it was missing a few elements that they wanted to add. They made it new and better. I can only imagine what the students will do after they leave school because of this day, not in spite of it.

5. Critical Thinkers – In the “factory model” of education, students were meant to be compliant and basically do “as they were told.” This is not something that sticks with a child only, but goes into adulthood as well and it creates “yes” people who tend to lose all originality. One of my best friends and my first admin partner, told me to never just let him go out on his own with his ideas without questioning them and sharing my thoughts. His reason? He wanted the best ideas, not his ideas. He wanted me to ask questions. He wanted to be successful. It was not his ego that was important, but the success of his staff and students. I have learned to ask the same of all those I work with and although it can turn into spirited conversations, it is was best not only for school but all organizations. We need to have students that are able to ask questions and challenge what they see, but always in a respectful way.

6. Problem Solvers/Finders – Ewan McIntosh has a brilliant Ted Talk discusses the notion of “problem-based learning” and how it is not beneficial to give students problems that aren’t real. Instead, he focuses on the idea that students need to be “problem finders”; being able to find some tough challenges and then being able to solve those problems. Megan Howard shares a wonderful story of how one of her grade six students was able to see that there was a problem with classmates losing their school uniforms and then being able to use QR codes to be able to identify them. Let’s start asking kids to really look into finding what the problems are and giving them some purpose in solving something real.

7. Self-Assessment – I don’t think that I have ever heard a teacher say, “I can’t wait until we get to write report cards!” That being said, I think we spend too much time focusing on being able to tell others what our students can do and know, and not enough time helping students understand those things themselves. Portfolios are a great way to share this knowledge and will actually have students develop their own understanding of what they know. If you can write in a report card that a student can do something in October, yet they can’t do it in January, is that report card still relevant? I think that we should spend more time working with students to teach them how to assess themselves and not just do it for them.

8. Connected Learning – When I first started teaching, I remember really struggling with science. It was a subject that I struggled with as a learner and that continued on as a teacher. I now think that if I was in the classroom, that the best person to teach science wouldn’t be me, but a scientist. With most people that having a computer also having a Skype account, there are many that are willing to share their expertise in different areas. This does not only have to be via technology, but we should also be bring in experts from our community to talk to students. I know many teachers have done this for a long time, but technology opens the doors to people that we could not even imagine being a part of our classroom even ten years ago. Even Shaquille O’neal has made some time to Skype with students in one school.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *