Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reshaping High Schools - Is That Really Possible?

I got to work this morning, started my laptop and sat down to read the newest issue of Educational Leadership (May 2008; Vol. 65, No. 8) from ASCD. The entire issue is on reshaping high schools. I'll be honest with you - I read the articles and a real passion for change was ignited.

Then I began to read new blog postings and came across a posting from Dr. Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant, So What if Schools Don't Prepare Students for the 21st Century?, who had also received and read the same issue. Scott helped to bring me back down to reality - which is not a bad thing.

Scott helped me to realize that everything that is said in this issue has been said before - many times before. He has several references in his blog (which I highly recommend you read...) to past "nay-sayers" of education and the direction education has gone/is going. It really helped me to understand that, and I feel especially in education, we like to do a lot of talking and not a lot of doing.

Please understand I am not saying this to encourage educators to throw up their hands in frustration and become educator hermits. I am saying this to encourage action. Understanding theory and having those conversations is very important, but words without actions are just words.

How will this time - maybe - be different? It will be if the teachers make a stand. This change has to be one teacher at a time and those teachers have to be 21st century teachers. These teachers understand that learning is student-centered and not teacher-centered. These teachers understand that it's not what we teach (always), but how it's being taught. There is a need, at times, for curricula at the basic level to change, but there are fundamental things that will always need to be taught. 2+2 will always be 4 and you will always spell the word cat, C-A-T.

Again - I am not implying that curriculum is infallible, but more often than not I feel it's the instruction part that can use the most change. Making the move in the classroom from "it's all about me (the teacher)" to "it's all about them (the students)".

Be the change! Make the difference!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts for the last days of school

Wesley Fryer is a well respected advocate of technology usage in education, which I believe is a key component of being a 21st century teacher. If you do not subscribe to his blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, I highly recommend adding this to your "must-read" blog list.

Wesley's blog post last night truly hit the nail on the head when it comes to teachers attitude of the last few days of school and, if I'm being honest, I was one of those. I, just like the kids, was always ready to be done with the year and would do my best to keep the kids occupied while I finished getting my room ready to close up for the summer. It's not a pretty picture, but it's the truth.

I hope, as I have grown as a person and an educator, that, if I choose to get back into the classroom, I will not be that teacher anymore. In many other ways I was a 21st century teacher, but the last week of school - not so much.

Wesley was quick to point out what his ideas are NOT advocating (no rules, etc.), but made excellent points about how schools can foster a student-center environment. One of his examples is the way that Accelerated Reader is intended to be used and the way some schools actually use it - even to the point of punishment. The schools, of course, do not view it as punishment, but, as I think we can all agree, because the students aren't allowed to go to recess, the students view it as punishment. They are not allowed to do something they enjoy. Rather they are forced to do something they may not be good at - in the eyes of students...punishment. How many times do we force education down the throats of students instead of truly teaching them to love learning. Definitely one of the major roles of a 21st century teacher is instilling a love of learning. Often times this may mean finding the one thing the student enjoys and teaching them how to teach themselves using that one thing.

He also wrote to something I discussed in a previous blog about 21st century teaching is often a fundamental change in schools and the way people think.

"As I continue my work as a 21st century educator, I grow increasingly convinced that the fundamentally coercive nature of our public education system in the United States must change in basic ways. We, as a society, have grown accustomed to an educational system which is compulsory and therefore fundamentally coercive in its nature. This coercive side of education becomes most clearly unmasked in May, as we draw closer to the end of school. Students sitting in class a week from the end of school may understandably ask, “Why are we here?”"
Do you want to coerce learning or be a facilitator of learning? Personally, I choose facilitator.

By the way - I have recently joined Twitter. I'm JennAFuzz and Wesley Fryer is wfryer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Curriculum and Instruction

Infusing the teaching of 21st century skills into curriculum and instruction is imperative and often times can be done by using technology to enhance the curriculum and instruction that is already in place.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has set up a resource area entitled Route 21, "a one-stop shop for 21st century skills-related information, resources, and community tools." You can go here for many, many resources posted by teachers and other professionals. The exciting thing is you can join the community and post your own resources about 21st century skills.

Curriculum is the what of teaching. It becomes important at that point, when creating the curriculum, to have a grasp of 21st century skills. Instruction is the how of teaching. Understanding the 21st century skills in instruction becomes using knowledge to infuse 21st century skills into teaching. Route 21 describes in Curriculum and Instruction ways to meets the needs of the 21st century learner to achieve student outcomes described in its Framework:
  • "to adopt a 21st century curriculum that blends thinking and innovation skills; information, media, and ICT literacy; and life and career skills in context of core academic subjects and across interdisciplinary themes, and
  • to employ methods of 21st century instruction that integrate innovative and research-proven teaching strategies, modern learning technologies, and real world resources and contexts."
It is important as educators that we infuse our current curriculum and instruction practices with the use and teaching of 21st century skills to prepare our students for their futures.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

21st Century Skills

There is a lot of discussion happening in the instructional technology world and education in general about 21st century skills for students. In fact - this blog is about teaching in the 21st century. Those that say "This is how I learned and look how I turned out" don't realize the damage they are doing to our kids. That attitude will not prepare our students for the world that will live in when they are grown.

The article 21st Century Skills from Campus Technology gives this example "Recently, a new hire at a friend's company was assigned the task to review, analyze, and write a report about several organizations the company was interested in working with. Andrea Brands, AT&T's director of public affairs, describes the result: "My friend received a poor narrative, just a long summary, and it wasn't comprehensive." The employee didn't use any initiative, didn't go beyond the superficial. The employee was unprepared for the job."

Most teachers will agree that would want their students to be prepared for the future. Isn't that why we do this?

The solution: become a 21st Century Teacher. That means the words "that's technology and I've been fine without it so far" or "I don't have the time or resources", etc., can no longer be a part of your vocabulary. It should become unacceptable for classroom teachers to dig their heals in and not learn what will help our kids be successful. It can be such a fearful thing for some people and THAT'S OKAY! What is not okay - fear that drives teachers into denial about the importance of moving their teaching into the 21st century. It will not be easy. It may not even be plesant in some cases; however, that does not diminish it's importance.

What exactly does a 21st Century Teacher look like? Someone whose teaching focuses on student and not on the teacher. Anthony Chivetta, a frequent writer on the Students 2.0 blog, makes this point in his blog 21st Century Education: Thinking Creatively "Twenty-first century education won’t be defined by any new technology. It won’t be defined by 1:1 laptop programs or tech-intensive projects. Twenty-first century education will, however, be defined by a fundamental shift in what we are teaching—a shift towards learner-centered education and creating creative thinkers. Today’s world is no longer content with students who can simply apply the knowledge they learned in school: our generation will be asked to think and operate in ways that traditional education has not, and can not, prepare us for." Here is what strikes me about this statement - it is made from a student. Again I say - aren't they the reason we're here!

Because my focus is on instructional technology, my job focuses on helping teachers move towards 21st Century Teaching by using many of the technology tools available; however, it is not enough to use the technologies - it is in how they are used. The paradigm has to shift in teaching or nothing that is changed will work. Help the students understand how to learn and research and find the answers themselves, don't just give them the information. What's the fun in that? :) Foster that curiosity that people are born with naturally. It's okay to say "I don't know". Most kids these days don't expect adults to "know everything" simply because they understand the true expanse of knowledge and information.

If you are a teacher that has begun the process of becoming (or have become) a 21st Century Teacher (I do realize it doesn't happen overnight...and I don't expect it too!), I applaud you. If you want to move towards 21st Century Teaching, I challenge you to find someone in the first category because, as educators, we love to share! If you fall under the category of "don't think so - that is not for me" than I challenge you to think of your most successful student and think about where you would like him/her to be in 10-20 years. Will that attitude help them get there?