Saturday, November 06, 2010

Denied or Defined: 21st Century Students in Today's Classrooms

The term "21st Century student" or "21st Century Classroom" sure gets thrown around a lot. We're so used to hearing and supporting our pedagogy with it, but have you ever stopped to think about what it really means? There are many qualities that make up a 21st Century student. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning.

The new taxonomy supports the idea that not all learning objectives and outcomes are, nor should be, have equal in value. Effective teachers frequently refer to this taxonomy to design their instruction to emphasize important learned capabilities (more useful for adults in the workforce) rather than, for example, to emphasize memorization of facts (which makes for easier testing).

With expectations of the future workforce and the proliferation of inexpensive and readily available technology, a new and revised taxonomy (2001) emerged. It plays down the consumer-emphasized, single-player-sport idea of “educational objectives” (in Bloom’s original title) and points to a more interactive idea of what an effective curriculum provides.

Notice that "remembering" although certainly a necessary component to learning, sits at the bottom of this pyramid to higher-level thought processes required for true learning to occur.

Even with today's emphasis on testing, it's more important than ever to push our students to achieve higher level thinking. What are some ways that can be done today?
  • First and foremost, parents/families must be involved in a positive way. Students must learn that their parents value their learning beyond the grades achieved on report cards. Parents who engage in competitive conversations regarding which schools their children attend, what page they are on, or what grades they received, might be better off focusing their energy on the learning outcomes of their child's achievement or lack of. Even with a poor grade on a test or report card, for example, parents can ask, "What did you learn from this?" or "What can you/we do better next time?" rather than, "Why did you get this grade?" The cartoon below from Daryl Cagle had me wondering how I am supporting my own children through their educational journey.
  • Understand and accept the fact that although it pains us (teachers) to reduce children to a grade or score, it's currently how our system functions and there are many ways to deemphasize grades and focus on the whole child.
  • Effective teachers are harnessing the Internet, specifically the power of blogging, to provide students with opportunities that simply weren't available even a few years ago.
    • I have my class blog and more importantly, my students have their own blogs where their writing brings them attention, global conversation and motivation for writing more effectively. Check out Lily's post on bullying, Caroline's post on Tourettes and Joey's post on his Karate test. Don't just read the posts, but also read the relevant and encouraging comments from readers, near and far.
    • Marie Knee, kindergarten teacher, uses video and blogs and interactive sites to create an enriching and transparent classroom where her young students can share their learning with their families and the world.
    • Check out Kathy Cassidy, first grade teacher, for how she shares her students with the world. Teachers, like me, learn daily from these teachers who so generously provide those insights so that we can model our own instruction after theirs.
    • Dan Meyer, high school math teacher, makes math relevant to our real world.
    • George Couros (school principal) blogs regularly. His insights as a school principal create a ripple effect where other school administrators, teachers and students regularly engage in conversation and benefit from his transparent offers to share.
    • There are many, many more examples that you can explore. Scott McLeod's compilation of exemplary blogs is a good place to start.
So what does all of this mean for you, your classroom and your children? That's what I'd like to hear from you.
  • What are children able to do today that you have yet to learn (or even understand)? Does that make you feel inferior or empowered to engage in conversations with your children and allow them to teach you (and perhaps move forward in your goals towards success)?
  • What characteristics do the successful adults in your life (family, friends, coworkers) have that make them so successful? Are your children on their way to learning those strategies? What are you doing to help foster this?
  • In your opinion, what ineffective methods are being used with children who would be better served by engaging in flexible grouping, collaborative projects or simply being able take an active part in their own learning?
I look forward to your comments.


Unknown said...

Lee- As I help my fourth grade daughter each week study for her upcoming week's quizzes which encompasses memorizing number of facts on different topics, I struggle with how to approach this. During the summer she blogged regularly on the blog I set up for her, but now she is caught up in a boring ritual which is not preparing her for anything beyond some low-level testing.

She is not in an environment which embraces new approaches. She has nice teachers who treat their students well, but they feel they are doing just fine maintaining the status quo. What would you do?

I think our students need to have much more control over their learning because what I see at the high school level are a large number of students who struggle with self-directed learning. They are going out our doors soon into a place where they need to be self-directed to be successful. How do we help caring adults see the light? They are passionate about students, but not passionate about student engagement.

Lee Kolbert said...

It's very difficult to swim upstream in an environment where most parents and teachers struggle with activities, lessons and homework that vastly differs from what they are used to.

I have parents who struggle to help their children with math because I am not asking the students for definitive answers. I am rather, asking them to think, draw models and struggle a little bit in order to fully internalize the concepts. These parents are often upset with me, or the math program, because it takes them out of their comfort zone. For science for example, my parents want to know "which chapter" the test is on. It's a tough thing as a teacher though, because we DO want parents to help their kids study, yet how do you do that without providing cheat sheets disguised as study guides or page numbers.

I think many teachers would rather not rock the boat; which is unfortunate for the students.

As a parent, have you considered scheduling a conference with the teacher and having a conversation about these very things? It must be very hard to wear the hat of a principal and parent. I bet a lot of teachers find that intimidating, yet from your writing I'm confident that you are the type of person who can make the conversation very comfortable.

Unknown said...
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Rob Parsons said...

What strikes me about the way you've laid it out here, Lee, is that the concentration on testing and (in the UK at least league tables based on test scores) is that it does not just not encourage students to learn higher level skills, but actually actively prevents their learning of higher level skills by focussing them so much on the lower levels of the pyramid. Ugh.