This is hard…

Recently I was talking to a friend who is a teacher. I noticed some cool project-based learning activities that she shared on Twitter, and I was talking to her about them. She’s a fairly experienced teacher, and one of the things that she said really struck a chord with me:

“You know, I used to teach really differently than I do now. Ten years ago, the things I was doing were easier for me. The things I do now are harder, and I keep hoping that those things will get easier. As I reflect though, while things have gotten harder for me, the learning experiences for my students have gotten better. I guess I’m not sure that I’m hoping for the right things. It’s not easy for us, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Woah! What a powerful statement! A favorite author of mine is George Couros. In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, he says:

“I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change to something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of ‘new and better,’ it is not innovative. That means change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword as many organizations do to appear current and relevant.”

And in a recent blog post, AJ Juliani took it a step further… He argued that just being new and better isn’t quite enough. We need to make sure that it is also better for our learners.

Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.

And here’s the thing about that – we all know it is difficult to plan for a project-based learning experience. It’s difficult to build an inquiry project for your students. It’s difficult to create learning opportunities that integrate Language Arts, Math, Science, and more into a single unit of study. But what about the opportunities it creates for our students?

We talk about preparation for the next in education all the time. Whether we’re thinking about the next year, the next step, the first job, whatever… The reality is that with the world changing so rapidly, we’re naïve to think that we have any idea what the future really holds. I’m sure my elementary and middle school teachers never imagined that some of the kids in their class would be making money by taking pictures and posting them to Instagram. What amazing things that we can’t even imagine will our students be doing when they are out in “the world”?

So, given the fact that we can’t predict the future, more than anything we need to provide a skill set to our young people that prepares them for anything. We have no way to know where they might go!

So often we have been talking about 21st century skills, but we have to remember that we are now almost 2 decades into the 21st century, and some of the students sitting in our classroom will actually see the 22nd century!

So here’s the question. Why do we do these hard things? We know that it takes us more time and effort to create these deep learning experiences for our students but look at the results. Most students are more highly engaged when given true project-based learning experiences, or student driven inquiry projects. And with that higher level of engagement comes stronger learning experiences. And with those stronger learning experiences our students will be better prepared for whatever their future may hold.

If we’re worried about preparing kids for the “real world,” then this should concern us:

Yes, it’s harder to teach this way. The reality is that it’s harder for administrators to lead this style of learning. But when we look at the children walking into our building, and we remember that we have no way to know what their future may hold, we’ve got to focus on those skills that take them anywhere – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication.

As you have shifted to deeper learning activities, what has been your experience? Have you noticed a greater desire and drive for learning from your students? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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