Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning

In today’s dynamic classrooms, the teaching and learning process is becoming more nuanced, more seamless, and it flows back and forth from students to teachers. Here’s a look at current trends in teaching and learning, their implications, and changes to watch for.

The Three Key Trends

1. Collaborative.

If Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it’s to play nicely together. Sure, there are times for buckling down and working alone, but in most cases, the collaborative process boosts everyone’s game. In progressives schools across the country, students and teachers are learning from each other in all sorts of ways.

Sharing information and connecting with others — whether we know them personally or not — has proven to be a powerful tool in education. Students are collaborating with each other through social media to learn more about specific subjects, to test out ideas and theories, to learn facts, and to gauge each others’ opinions.

They’re finding each other on their ownkid-specific social networking sites, on their blogs, on schools’ sites, and of course on Facebook and Twitter. Though Facebook is still a red herring when it comes to school policy (Massachusetts districts have threatened to fire teachers who friend students on Facebook), and educators are split over whether tweeting in class is disruptive or helpful, the sites continue to be pervasive in both higher-ed and K-12. Educators know they can grab students’ attention where they naturally live outside the classroom — the online social world, whether or not it’s Facebook.

“If you’re teaching something that’s usually bland and you insert a simple tool that allows students to connect with each other or their peers in other schools and countries whenever they want, you just see kids’ faces light up,” says veteran educator Chris Lehmann of theScience Leadership Academy.

Educators Unite

But social networking is not just for teens, as evidenced by the 500 million-plus Facebook users. Teachers are putting their collective smarts together to find the best ways of engaging students, using social media to teach everything from reading and writing to Shakespeare. Educators are also using social media to connect with each other, share ideas, and find the best teaching tools and practices. Sites like Classroom 2.0, Teacher TubePBS Teachers,EdmodoEdutopia, and countless others are lit up with teachers sharing success stories, asking for advice, and providing support. Collaboration is happening offline, too, at schools where educators team-teach and organize professional learning networks.

Collaboration is also finding its way into curriculum with open-source sites to which everyone is encouraged to contribute. Working together is woven into the fabric of project-based schools like the Science Leadership in Academy, which focuses on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship, and Napa New Tech High High. The idea is simple: by working together, students figure out how to find common ground, balance each others’ skills, communicate clearly, and be accountable to the team for their part of the project. Just as they would in the work place.

Watch for: (1) Department of Education working to establish a one-stop shop for teacher networks. (2) Commonly accepted guidelines for using YouTube, Facebook, and other social media in schools.

 2. Tech-Powered.

Pens and pencils are far from obsolete, but forward-thinking educators are finding other interactive tools to grab their students’ attention. School programs are built around teaching how to create video games. Teachers are using Guitar Hero, geo-caching (high-tech scavenger hunt), Google maps for teaching literatureWii in lieu of P.E., VoiceThread to communicate, ePals and LiveMocha to learn global languages with native speakers, Voki to create avatars of characters in stories, and Skype to communicate with peers from all over the world — even augmented reality, connecting students to virtual characters. And that’s just a tiny sampling.

Creating media is another noteworthy tech-driven initiative in education. Media permeates our lives, and the better able students are to create and communicate with media, the better connected they’ll be to global events and to the working world. To that end, programs like Digital Youth Network focus on teaching students tocreate podcasts, videos, and record music; and Adobe Youth Voices teaches kids how to make and edit films and connects them to documentary filmmakers.

Tech-savvy teachers are threading media-making tools into the curriculum with free (or cheap) tools, like comic strip-creation site ToonDoMicrosoft Photo Story 3 for slide shows,SoundSlides for audio slide shows, Microsoft Movie Maker, and VoiceThread to string together images, videos, and documents, to name just a few.

Students in high school and college are using digital portfolios — the equivalent of resumes — to showcase the trajectory of their work on websites that link to their assignments, achievements, and course of study, using photos, graphics, spreadsheets and web pages.

Watch for: The explosive growth of high-tech companies and venture capitalists investing ever-more capital in the education market.
3. Blended.

Simply stated, blended learning is combining computers with traditional teaching. Knowing that today’s learners are wired at all times, teachers are directing students’ natural online proclivity towards schoolwork. It’s referred to as different things — reverse teaching, flip teaching, backwards classroom, or reverse instruction. But it all means the same thing: students conduct research, watch videos, participate in collaborative online discussions, and so on at home and at school — both in K-12 schools and in colleges and universities.

Teachers use this technique in different ways. Some assign interactive quizzesand online collaborative projects at home, some use computer time in class, some assign watching videos and lectures at home and use class time for hands-on projects, some place most of the curriculum online and work one-one-one with students in class. However they choose to do it, the best examples of blended learning programs involve teachers who use home-time online discussions and collaborative projects as fuel for content and discussion in the classroom.

This movement is growing quickly — the Department of Education plans to spend $30 millionover the next three years to bring blended learning to 400 schools around the country.

Why Kids Need Schools to Change

 

Flickr: Elizabeth Albert

The current structure of the school day is obsolete, most would agree. Created during the Industrial Age, the assembly line system we have in place now has little relevance to what we know kids actually need to thrive.

Most of us know this, and yet making room for the huge shift in the system that’s necessary has been difficult, if not impossible because of fear of the unknown, says educator Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well.

“People don’t like change, especially in times of great uncertainty,” she said. “People naturally go conservative and buckle down and don’t want to try something new. There are schools that are trying to do things differently, and although on the one hand they’re heralded as having terrific vision, they’re still seen as experimental.”

During this time of economic uncertainty, especially, Levine said parents want to make sure their kids won’t fall into the ranks of the unemployed and disenfranchised young people who return home because they’re unable to find jobs. “There’s so much anxiety around the economy, they’re thinking, What can I do to make sure that my kid isn’t one of the unemployed”? she said.

Yet therein lies the paradox. It’s exactly during these uncertain times when people must be willing to try new things, to be more open, curious and experimental, she said. In education, although there are great new models of learning and schooling, they are the exceptions, and the progressive movement has not gained much momentum.

“I’m astounded at the glacial pace of change in education,” she said. “Like many academic areas, there’s a huge disconnect between what’s known and what’s in practice. It’s very slow moving.”

Levine, who was a teacher herself for many years, said she has tremendous respect for educators and believes they need full support from parents and administrators. But until the directive comes from those in power — national and state policymakers, superintendents, principals — what can teachers do individually to make learning relevant for their students?

“One thing we know for sure is that kids learn better when teachers are invested and paying attention and showing they care,” she said. “The biggest impact you’ll have as a teachers is the relationship you establish with your student.”

Try to integrate what students are interested in within what’s happening in class, get to know each student, and have high expectations. Taking seriously the range of interests kids have, she said.

In addition to individual attention, Levine believes a child’s time in school should look much like what kindergarten did.

“There’s probably no better example of the throttling of creativity than the difference between what we observe in a kindergarten classroom and what we observe in a high school classroom,” she writes in Teach Your Children Well. “Take a room full of five-year-olds and you will see creativity in all its forms positively flowing around the room. A decade later you will see these same children passively sitting at their desks, half asleep or trying to decipher what will be on the next test.”

In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.

And just as importantly, the arts would be integrated into a curriculum, not as an ancillary addition, but as a primary part of learning. “For developing creativity and flexible and divergent thinking, we need to bring back the arts,” she said. “It’s a travesty that kids don’t have arts anymore.”

FIVE AREAS FOR CHANGE

“We’re operating on a 200- year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set,” she said. “When we talk to business owners, we hear this large and increasing drumbeat that the jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don’t have the kinds of skills they need.”

Levine spends a lot of her time at Challenge Success, a school training program at Stanford that’s been incorporated into about 100 schools across the country. The five criteria that Challenge Success brings to schools attempts to modernize the obsolete system in place today: scheduling, project based learning, alternative assessment, climate of care, and parent education.

  • PROJECT BASED LEARNING. Project-based learning has shown to be a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years,” she said. “Over and over business leaders say kids need to be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex.”
  • ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT. “You don’t have the opportunity to show what you know in a regular school because standardized tests that are mandated only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways,” she said. We should have alternative criteria for gauging students’ knowledge and ability to show what they know.
  • SCHEDULING. Neuroscience research on sleep is becoming more compelling by the day, particularly around depression, Levine said. “We’d always thought fatigue is symptom of depression, but now it’s looking more like lack of sleep causes depression, and that’s something looked at seriously.” Kids needs nine hours of sleep, and if schools were in synch developmentally with teenagers, should would start at 10 a.m., especially when kids enter adolescence. Teachers should also coordinate their exams with each other to ensure that students are not taking multiple tests on the same day.
  • CLIMATE OF CARE. Research shows that kids do better in classes where teachers know their names and say hello to them, and when they have their own advocates or advisers at school. “Almost every private school has advisory, a person for each kid to go to,” Levine said. “But in public schools, there are just a few counselors for a thousand kids or more. By the time you’re hitting high school, you need someone apart from parents to test ideas with, to kick around problems, a go-to person who a kid feels knows them.”
  • PARENT EDUCATION. Well-meaning parents are confounded with how to approach managing their kids’ times. Kids needs playtime, downtime, and family time, Levine said. “We’ve robbed kids at each stage of childhood and adolescence of tasks that belong in that particular stage,” she said. “You can’t push kids outside their developmental zone and expect them to learn. You want to push them towards the edge of it, but not over.”

21 Things That Will Be Obsolete by 2020

 

Flickr: Corey Leopold

Inspired by Sandy Speicher’s vision of the designed school day of the future, reader Shelly Blake-Plock shared his own predictions of that ideal day. How close are we to this? The post was written in December 2009, and Blake-Plock says he’s seeing some of these already beginning to come to fruition.

[Update: I asked Blake-Plock to respond to comments to this post. Read it here.]

By Shelly Blake-Plock

1. DESKS
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. LANGUAGE LABS
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. COMPUTERS
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is.’ Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury ofindividualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.

4. HOMEWORK

The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. THE ROLE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION AS A SIGN OF DISTINGUISHED TEACHER 
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

7. FEAR OF WIKIPEDIA
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.

8. PAPERBACKS
Books were nice. In ten years’ time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the ‘feel’ of paper. Well, in ten years’ time you’ll hardly tell the difference as ‘paper’ itself becomes digitized.

9. ATTENDANCE OFFICES
Bio scans. ‘Nuff said.

10. LOCKERS
A coat-check, maybe.

11. I.T. DEPARTMENTS
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade’s worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT — software, security, and connectivity — a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. CENTRALIZED INSTITUTIONS
School buildings are going to become ‘homebases’ of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will begoing out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. ORGANIZATION OF EDUCATIONAL SERVICES BY GRADE 
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT FAIL TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. PAID/OUTSOURCED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learning networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.

16. CURRENT CURRICULAR NORMS
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. TYPICAL CAFETERIA FOOD
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. OUTSOURCED GRAPHIC DESIGN AND WEB DESIGN
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade — in the best of schools — they will be.

20. HIGH SCHOOL ALGEBRA 1
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we’ll have finally woken up to the fact that there’s no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and I.T. in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. PAPER
In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.