By Grant Jones
Teachers need to stop using the phrase 21st century learner when referring to students in their classes and start referring to them as modern learners. Delivery of information needs to occur using future-focused learning skills. Many teachers have had the thought that technology is what makes a classroom a modern learning space. Using Microsoft Office applications to publish work is not delivering high-quality education. Technology enhances classrooms. Modern learning principles do not specifically say ‘technology’, but to be successful and competent in them, technology has to be an integral part. For students to be ready for the careers of the future, with some jobs not even conceived yet, teachers need to give them every opportunity to be exposed to and consolidate modern learning strategies. Before teachers have students undertake these work habits and skills, they need to both understand and actually practise what they preach.
Students are born collaborators without even knowing it. When they play in the playground in a group, they create new ideas and work together to achieve a combined outcome. This is collaboration without the students even knowing it. Collaborative and collaborate are the buzz words that are being used in education these days but, in some regards, they are not being used in their truest capacity. There have been many times in both classrooms as well as staff meetings where collaboration is occurring, but it is always driven by one or two people. To successfully collaborate with someone or a group of people, all stakeholders need to be invested in the task and all actively contributing to the task. Collaborative learning sees all students and sometimes teachers actively participating in meaningful discussions and projects where all participants are contributing equally to achieve a combined outcome. Teachers need to give students ample opportunities to work and consolidate in a collaborative fashion, as working with others will be a crucial aspect of their lives.
Creative and Critical thinking
Teachers are always asking students to produce work that is creative and imaginative, but they still pull out the same units of work with the same old resources each year. Teachers need to challenge themselves to teach differently and always deliver their content creatively. If teachers model this, students will in turn start to bring creativity as well. Teachers need to harbour a safe learning environment where students have the ability to be creative.
Creative thinking also encompasses more than just aesthetics; it also looks at different ways of thinking, such as the Six Thinking Hats, lateral thinking and change perspectives. Changing perspectives is a powerful attribute to have as it encourages constructive criticism both in giving and receiving. The notion of ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ allows students to analyse how others live within society and then develop empathy. The notion of critical thinking allows students to think about ideas and content in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. As students gain competencies in this style of thinking, they will begin to understand links between ideas, identify relevance of ideas and become more reflective in their thoughts and ideas. By using quality, open-ended questioning, students will be able to critically think and analyse problems and come to a more educated and justified outcome. Creative and critical thinking are invaluable skills that will definitely equip students for their future career.
Effective Oral and Communication Skills
For students to be competent in these modern learning skills, teachers have to look beyond the notion of ‘public speaking’ and ‘writing with a pen’. To have effective oral skills, not only do students need to be confident in speaking in front of an audience, they also need to gain skills to verbally ask effective questions, critically reflect on their own work as well as others, take on criticisms from others and self-reflect. Students now have the opportunity to communicate using a vast array of avenues, including visual presentations, multi-modal presentations, online blogs, Skype, emails and a multitude of apps. Teachers need to equip students with skills that allow them to use these communication tools to their highest potential and educate students to use them correctly and safely to become confident digital citizens.
Innovation is another buzz word that is used throughout education. To be truly innovative in the classroom, teachers must look beyond what they already do and challenge themselves to implement great future ideas into their practice. Once teachers become innovative, only then can they expect their students to be innovative in their learning. In its truest sense, innovation is defined as a new idea, device or method. Using this definition, teachers can take the approach that, once the effective integration of technology into their lessons occurs, they can start to become more innovative.
Looking at the SMAR model, teachers must aim their lessons towards the Augmentation (A) and Redefinition (R) when using technology integration. This will bring innovation into the classroom. Handing discovery over to students will empower them to create and be innovative with technology. Students crave for the opportunity to explore and produce innovative products. This falls into the Redefinition part of the SMAR model as they are creating something that was before inconceivable. This stems back to the definition of innovation – students have created a new idea, device or method.
Teachers need to support and nurture students to be innovative learners, as this skill will once again equip them for the careers of the future. Without innovators, many technologies and what most people take for granted today may not exist.
The learning environments need to be set up with modern learning principles in mind, as the space can either allow students to flourish or be squashed out. If teachers want students to be collaborative, the classroom needs to be designed with that in mind, without the same old rows. Students also need to be given more choice as to where they will sit and complete their work. Instead of assigning a designated position for students to complete all tasks, hand ownership to students and get them to choose where they want to work. This does take a fair amount of training, but if teachers set up expectations, then students will become self-driven and make appropriate choices. This has worked extremely effectively in my classroom. I do premise some activities with questions for thought such as, ‘Where would I learn best?’, ‘Is the person next to me the best person to sit next to?’ Gone are the days in my class where students remark, ‘Someone is sitting in my seat!’ as there are no designated spots. Empowering students to make choices as to where they complete tasks, whether it be a desk, a standing table or even on a cushion on the floor, gives students the ability to take ownership of their learning.
After attending the Leading a Digital School conference recently in Melbourne, all the keynote speakers empowered the delegates to hand over the discovery and active learning to the students and watch them flourish. By handing over the ‘power’ to students to discover, they become more independent, more motivated and more active in their learning. This will allow students to develop key modern learning skills that will equip them for the careers of the future. Ian Jukes and Ted McCain have stated that teachers need to teach using a split screen. On the left hand side, put all the essential content that has to be covered and then list the modern learning skills that the students will be working towards on the right hand side. If teachers keep the mindset that classrooms are future focused, they are always giving students the best learning possible.
Grant Jones is a Technology Teacher and PBL Leader St Marys Public School in Brisbane