Buzzword time: I am empowering my students to unlock their full potential using twenty-first-century teaching skills. Everybody say “Ooooh!”
What is touted as being new and special is not necessarily new – though it is different from the way we think of “school” being done – nor is it all about computers. It’s more about the way we expect the students to function in and interact with society and the workplace. It’s asking students to apply what they’re learning with a group to solve “real-world problems.” After all, we messed it up pretty badly, and soon they’re gonna have to fix it!
The shift away from following a basal reader, a lesson-a-day math curriculum, and a list of vocabulary and concepts to read about in the Social Studies text book and practice in the workbook is exciting, frightening, wonderful, and overwhelming. I feel like I was not particularly trained for this in college. (Sorry, HC, I love you, but if you taught it I must have slept through it. Possible but not probable.) As both a student and a teacher, I like the clear end-point and easy mindlessness of a worksheet and ready-to-go lesson plan, but from both sides I can also see how an application of the skills and knowledge gives the chance to be creative and really OWN the material, such as when our Elementary Math professor asked us to create a numbering system using just 4 digits plus zero. Inventing a base-5 system with my group helped me understand place-value at 20 like I wish my students could understand before they’re 10. (He was always one of my favs at ol’ HC.) I’ve been trying to differentiate, to use projects that allow students to apply concepts with different levels of readiness and different areas of interest, to engage students in raising money for an orphan’s home (real) and designing a garden for an orphanage’s grounds (pretend). I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface, but thinking about this in class lately has made me realize that I am headed in the right direction and have made some progress, even if I am still light years away from the classrooms described as examples in the books and articles describing this.
Unfortunately, I need to find more ways to teach and practice the twenty-first-century skills. I don’t see it as something my students are very strong at when they leave me. Even in the area you would first think of as belonging in the twenty-first century, typing and using a computer, they still have so much to learn. Maybe, just maybe this year we will get through all the keys on the keyboard, and they will at least know HOW to practice and learn typing – there’s no way we’ll actually give them enough practice to really LEARN touch-typing until they have a 1-to-1 laptop thing going on and can do drills while waiting for classmates or filling a couple minutes between activities.
Teaching students using these big projects and collaboration is risky. What if the information you’re hoping they’ll acquire doesn’t all stick, or you can’t pace the unit well enough that they all get to everything? What if their group implodes and you’re picking up emotional shards around the class? What if it takes so long you don’t get to the next two units? What if you don’t scaffold enough and have to double-back and do worksheets and book lessons anyway, or scaffold too much and bore them? Some of these are the same risks that come with any teaching, of course! And there are also rewards – students being able to adapt, cooperate, and learn without a teacher spoon-feeding them, becoming people who are more ready and likely to engage the issues of the day as they grow older and more able to speak and act in the local, national, and global communities they are a part of. And hopefully, students who are more engaged and less bored in the classroom day in and day out!