Future Proof Education – Learn

All of this change in the way the world operates means we have to change the way we learn and the purpose of learning at schools. The world we live in today is so different even to 5 years ago. The pace of change post-smart phone/tablet/web 2.0 is unrecognisable. We have to change education to prepare for this new world that will be unrecognisable in another 5 years from now.

The Prezi covers the following areas under the umbrella of Learn:

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the details
  • Information literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Meta cognition (know what you know)

This is how I finished off my last post on Future Proof Your Education, an analysis of an excellent Prezi on the topic. I finished by saying this section deserved a separate post as there was much to discuss in this section. After all, we are in the business of Learning (there’s no ‘teaching’ unless there is learning!) 

The focus of this final section of the presentation is clearly on the changing responsibilities of the active learner in the education process. The actions of the ‘dot points’ listed above are the action of the student. Yes, as teachers we are still part of this process and we have to teach/guide/facilitate the children in our care to become skilled learners with the ability to manage their learning. However, in the 21st Century learning model, which is about skilling up children for a world they have to be active in, the baton of responsibility is handed over to them. They have to learn to formulate a plan. They have to synthesise the details of all that information in front of them. Questions need to be formulated by them. They have to reflect on their what they have been involved in and evaluate how they learned and performed. So what do we need to do to ensure they become successful 21st Century Learners? Here are my thoughts.

Formulate a Learning Plan

This is not easy for children (or adults for that matter, which is why we need to start early with our students). Planning takes time. Time, however, is something we don’t always have when we have the pressure to achieve x amount of learning outcomes in x-3 amount of time. If we are going to teaching children how to plan for learning, we are going to have to be brave enough to let go of some things and make time for this important stage.

Now I’m not for one moment going to suggest our students have to formulate a learning plan for EVERYTHING that happens in class. There are some givens across curriculum areas that we as teachers still need to manage for the sanity and benefit of all involved. This is about planning major projects driven by the students interests. Planning and organising major projects are quite possibly the jobs of the future so we need to give them experience in how to do it.

We need to guide them through the use of graphic organisers that help to layout their ideas and track their progress. There needs to be a place on these organisers for the student to record their successes and challenges ( and time given for them to do that) We need them to organise a timetable or schedule of work so they can plan for when, where and how they are going to achieve their goals. Tech Tools have a role to play here. Collaboration using shared calendars or GoogleDocs or Edmodo, for example allows for both teachers and fellow students to provide feedback on an individual students plan. I know I’m a “paperless society” tech geek but I keep track of students work so much more effectively online when I can check in on their work at any time, not just during that two hour project block. When I worked with a Literature Circle group on Edmodo last year, the amount of work we did together while we were at home was of great benefit.

Even outside of major projects, students need to identify learning goals for specific strengths and weaknesses and learn to write SMART goals to achieve success. Again this takes time but it will benefit them in the future if they can learn how to manage their learning.

Synthesize the Details

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we are bombarded by a limitless supply of information through the mass media. When I was a child (back when the world was in black and white 😉 ), information was in black and white too. The teacher gave us the text and we accepted it as fact. In today’s world and the near future they will be working in, students are and will be confronted by hyperlink after hyperlink of fact and opinion. It is hard for educated types like us to separate the good from the bad, let alone expecting children to do it.

All the more reason why we need to spend a lot of our time in class giving our students the opportunity to ‘synthesise’ all the details. While in the early grades, we can only expect them to follow one line of thought, for older students we should be presenting multiple points of views or sources of information in multiple formats (video, audio, text, graphic data) so they are constantly making connections and summarising ideas. Working collaboratively using tools that allow for sharing ideas, students can build from the ideas and opinions of others and support each other in making sense of the endless stream of information they face. All with our experienced support. Which leads to what I think is the most important part of the whole “Future Proof Education” presentation – Information Literacy.

Information Literacy

This is the video from the Prezi that really struck a chord with me about how different Information Literacy is from the traditional literacy we have always taught and experienced at school.

Traditional literacy is words and pictures – mostly words. The words on the page say it all. To find information, you looked in the contents page or for more specific information, the index or the glossary. If you needed help, you went to the librarian who would look it up with you. This all worked when everything we needed to know or was allowed to know was contained within the walls of a room with shelves of books in them. This is not the world today and it certainly isn’t the future of information. Unfortunately, too many teachers ( me included until recently) still stick to the literacy model they are used to.

Digital literacy is a whole new ball game and we as an education system have to be better prepared for it if our students are going to deal with information overload. We talk about how kids just plagiarise information from websites like Wikipedia because it just easier and they don’t have to think. Well, maybe they do that because they are not digitally literate. In my recent defence of Wikipedia, I talk about how we need to teach them about how to use Wikipedia so they don’t just copy.

This video tells the story of the evolution of information storage and retrieval. The new way of organising, sharing, accessing and finding information is about tagging keywords, social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious), iPad apps (Zite) and websites (stumble upon) that send us information based on what we tell them we are interested in. We don’t find information; information finds us.

Writing information is not about copying or rewriting text and writing a bibliography or footnotes anymore. Digital Literacy is about hyperlinked writing; pulling together sources of information and building them within your writing to give readers access to your sources so they can form their own opinions. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano in her Langwitches blog, reflects on the complexity of hyperlinked writing and how we need to teach it in our classrooms – worth a read. Web 2.0 tools like Storify let you write by pulling sources from other Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flicker and Instagram as well as the general internet. Curation tools like Scoop-it and Pearltrees allows you collect websites on related topics and write your own summaries of each entry, while allowing others to comment or use your sources. This is the new literacy we have to get comfortable with as teachers so that we can get our students to use them effectively. As I’ve often stressed in this blog, they’ll pick up the technical aspect quickly; we need to guide the usage.

Formulate Good Questions

Of course, none of the information literacy will be of any use if we don’t teach the students to formulate questions worth researching. Terms like Rich questions and ‘fat and skinny’ questions are all about learners thinking about the type of question we ask. Fact based questions or yes and no answers are easy to find on Google and were often the type of questions I did so well at when I was at school. And yes, as a Trivia champion I still love the fact I can recite 80% of the capital cities of Africa but this isn’t getting me a job in the future. Asking good questions so that we can dig deep into issues, challenge the status quo, develop our understanding of current events, challenging what is being said in the media (right wing and left)  and having the questions that will help us find the correct information is vital to learners. Using a tool like Weiderhold’s Question Matrix  will help children develop rich questions. So will letting them ask questions all day, challenging them to go further if it is not a rich question. Collaboratively working with others and getting challenged by co-workers will also allow this type of richer questioning to occur, as long as we are there to guide them. Which again is why the use of online collaborative tools is important again. Getting involved in the conversation at any time is vital for teachers. Our contribution can’t end at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Reflect and Evaluate/Metacognition

Finally, the learning process is not complete without reflecting upon  and evaluating our learning. Again this is no easy task and again takes time we don’t always have. But as I said at the start about formulating plans, we have to reflect. Why do keep wondering why our students don’t retain what we “teach” them but don’t allow them to reflect on and evaluate on their learning. Maybe we can find time to do this if we didn’t spend all that time doing revision before tests. Maybe they’d remember the stuff after the test if we let them have time to reflect on and evaluate their learning. Maybe homework should be reflection and evaluation and not revision. Maybe blogging about what we have learnt during the day is more practical than doing a worksheet for homework. Maybe 5 minutes of structured reflection time during and after lessons with children recording individually or as a class online on blogs or Edmodo so they can refer back to the reflections in their own times will give us the time to do it. Maybe collaboratively doing this reflection will enable metacognition to take place and get children to recognise what they do and don’t know.

Final Thought

21st Century Learning is not easy, especially if we continue to have pressure from 20th Century curriculum. Learning, though has to be the focus and if these points are what learning is about, we have much to do. These are my thoughts, some based in practice, some in theory. I am interested in the opinions of others and finding out how others are going in the quest for true 21st Century learning. Join in the discussion.

2 thoughts on “Future Proof Education – Learn

  1. This is a great post! I especially agree with your defense of Wikipedia, students should learn how to properly use it as a resource, not turn away from it. It is nice to see someone writing about the future of education.

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