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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Feeding these kids with a silver spoon

I have been reflecting today, upon this saying "We're spoon feeding the kids."

I was prompted to start thinking about this, while showing a visiting group around our school to observe digital immersion classrooms.  One visitor commented on the difference between one classroom to another.  The first teacher was using the netbooks in an instructional group setting, and the second teacher was recording ideas on a large sheet of paper in a whole class setting.  The visitor commented that "The difference in teacher practice was clear - that teacher [the second setting] could have got student to contribute in a doc or in a presentation."  At first, I was inclined to agree, but upon further reflection, I came to the conclusion that - no, that teacher was getting through that first part of the lesson quickly, as a whole class, with the teacher recording the ideas - so they could get on with the deeper thinking part of the lesson sooner.  Meaning, the students were not wasting learning time with the brainstorming, instead, they were able to participate in extended conversations about the implications of the ideas shared and how they would include these ideas in the learning task.  Some would say that teacher was 'spoon feeding' these students.  I think I would call it priority teaching.

Is it not a positive, that they are self aware enough to ask for more?  More help, more models, more examples and more resources?  Is it not a positive that students have the confidence to talk about what they don't understand and have safe learner-teacher relationships in which they can ask "I need to know where to go for this?"

I can speak on this issue from both a teacher perspective and a student perspective.

As a teacher, I want my students to learn the skills to manage their own learning.  To think about where they can find resources so that they can be empowered to find the answers to their questions.  However, as a student, I want to know what my assignment structure is supposed to look like.  I want to be able to find the course readings quickly so that I can get on with the reading and writing of the assignment.

Do I need to be spoon fed?  Am I incapable of managing my own learning, because I want to be able to access my resources easily and because I want to know what my assignment should look like?  Or, am I an active learner who asks for the teacher to provide for me, the resources I need, that will ensure I achieve academic success?  After all, isn't that their job?  My lecturer in my post graduate studies - is it not their job to teach me?  That is what our students are wondering.  "I am not learning because I don't get it.  I don't get it because my teacher doesn't teach me right."  As a student, I don't appreciate teachers who make access to information an assignment in itself.  That if I can't find a particular reading, I am not putting in enough effort.  Rather, than uploading a link that is easy to access so I can get on with the ACTUAL assignment.

With the teacher hat back on, do I want students to spend an hour of reading time looking for the site I want them to work on, by going through a labyrinth of hyperlinks and log ins?  Or can I simply give them the site URL and let them get on with the thinking and the making meaning and spend time critically completing the task?

It is a balance.  I do not complete tasks for students.  I want students to ask questions and learn how to find information for themselves.  I promote self regulated learning in my classroom and encourage all students to 'give it a go' first.  However, I also want them to make the most of their learning time so that they are making meaning from the information they find, so that they have time to extend their ideas and ask even more questions, so that they have time to critically reflect on how the information they find effects them and their world.

The old saying was "Knowledge is power."  However, through the power of Google, "Knowledge is about 2,640,000,000 results (0.36 seconds) away."  What equates to power in the 21st Century is Critical thinking, creativeness, the ability to question and to problem solve and adapt.  Students don't need to memorise facts that they can Google in 0.36 seconds.  They need the critical thinking skills to question and sift through the 2,640,000,000 results that are available to them.

We live in a world where Whatsapp - a company less that five years old, is worth 19 billion and shared between only 55 employers.  Compared to established companies, some with more than 100,000 employers.
We live in a time, where, in the United States, there is still a huge number of "post recession" College Graduates that are still surviving off the minimum wage.
And where top jobs are those based in 'engineering' - a job that survives on the creative, inventive and critical thinking of the engineers.  

Therefore, teachers need to keep the purpose of the learning at the forefront of their minds when they are planning their lessons.  What do you want the students to understand by the end of this hour?  Prioritise what tasks get the most time.  What tasks are going to accelerate the the students to where they need to be, in a world that is demanding new ideas and ways of thinking.

It is not spoon feeding.  It is priority teaching.  Give the students, the tools they need to achieve academic success at an accelerated pace, so they are not wasting the little time we have with them.  Set them up to participate in a constantly changing world.

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