It’s All About the Learning

I was recently asked this question in an interview: If you walked into a classroom, what would you expect to see and hear? What would the teacher and students be doing and saying?  In my mind, I immediately made connections with the type of classrooms I enjoyed observing and the type of classrooms I enjoyed teaching in. In these classrooms the teacher is not the center of attention, but the facilitator and the supporter. The teacher is one of the learners in the classroom, not the deliverer of information. Great teachers know how to hammer the nail in the foundation and give the students the opportunity to design and explore how they will construct the building. The teacher asks questions to guide the students’ thinking but she gives them room to develop their own questions; she allows them to take risks to explore and discuss their way of thinking; she provides opportunities for dialogue among the students and even with others outside the walls of the classroom.

In this classroom the students are free to ask questions, make claims, make proposals and have thoughtful conversations about the learning they are gaining inside and outside of the classroom. In this classroom, students and teacher have a vested interest in the learning process. They learn and grow together as they build on one another’s thinking. As their thinking process expands so does their learning and growth. In this clip from Sarah Brown Wessling’s ELA class, students are free to share their ideas, reflect and build on each other’s thinking. They listen to each other and agree or take exception to each other’s thoughts or perspectives. The teacher is a learner in this classroom as well and that inclusion of the teacher and students in the learning process promotes increased engagement and authentic learning. When students have the freedom to share their thinking and questioning in a risk-free, supportive learning environment, they develop into creative thinkers and problem solvers. We know we have succeeded when students are able to thoughtfully process what they are learning; when they are able to analyze and use evidence to support their thinking. That’s when we know that they have developed ownership of their learning as they become empowered to extend their learning even further.

As Holly Clark explains in this thoughtful Ted Talk, students in a compliant based classroom are deemed disrespectful when they talk with one another due to lack of understanding of the content. Instead of using inquiry to seek the cause of children’s disengagement and lack of understanding, teachers in those classrooms resort to using punitive measures to reprimand the child for speaking up. Unfortunately, that is still the case in many classrooms around the nation.

How can we change this faulty approach to instruction? Teachers and administrators truly need to change their thinking about how successful classrooms should look and sound like.  We need to understand that real learning happens in an environment that encourages dialogue and promotes thoughtful questions, not just from the teacher but from the students as well.

If we want to raise a generation of young people who are not afraid to question others and reflect on their thinking, then we need to start that in the classrooms. We need to teach our kids that it is alright to question authority and think critically about what they hear in the news and read on social media platforms. We need to skillfully embed technology in our teaching to assess and extend learning and growth. We need to teach our kids not to accept blindly but to think, reflect, research and respond thoughtfully. Teachers who are able to achieve all this in the classroom empower students with the passion for ongoing learning and imminent success in the real world, not just in school.  

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