No, it's not students. They are smart and eager to know exactly like we were. They need love, support and encouragement, just like every human being. They are fragile and insecure and full of hopes and expectations like every teenager. They have the whole world in their hands....and it is a smart world! In other words, they are teenagers with a lot of opportunities at hand that school (at least traditional school) is keeping at a distance. So what? To me what has changed is the context around school and inside schools. In the past, school were seen as temples of knowledge, places of wisdom, populated by experts: they helped people to be ready to face life. Today? They coincide more with places where knowledge and the pleasure for knowledge and discovery are left outside the main door. Brilliant people turning off their brains and (maybe) their mobiles as they enter school. No.. I was not thinking of students... I had teachers in mind :)
Mobile devices are often banned from classroom because they are seen merely as cheating tools, rather than learning tools. But this is true as long as you keep proposing an old millenium teaching approach: one to many, or sage on stage if you prefer. One speaks, the others listen. I think that the greatest change about education is the one which has led to a totally different approach to knowledge. Knowledge can now be accessed anywhere, anytime: a silent and powerful revolution.
So, is school still necessary if by "googleing" we can know the answers even before asking the questions (as their ads say)? If the role of school is that of providing knowledge, well, this could be seen as superseded by search engines. But if school is a place where you experience and get ready for life, well then, school is still a need.
Flipped classroom and PBL
I have been experimenting flipped teaching for four years now. Contents learning are assigned as a homework whereas time in class is spent discussing the topic of the day or solving problem tasks in small groups. The teacher is on the side of the students and their role is not that of the assessor but rather that of a coach or councellor. This approach, especially when finely timed and planned and supported by checklists for self-evaluation, has turned out to be very challenging and self-rewarding for students. There are some drawbacks, though. If this teaching style is episodic, i.e. it is carried out by single teachers and is not mainstreaming, activites proposed tend to be perceived as relaxing lessons: too different from serious, boring and more traditional lessons based on content learning and content repetition.
Can school be cool?
To try to overcome this objection "If it is funny and engaging it cannot be school" I am presently working on a PBL project to involve students of my 4th form aged 17-18 in designing the school of their dreams from the layout of the classrooms to the identification of the learning objectives and outcomes. I am confident that their idea of school will not be much different from mine. And if it is ... well, I will have learnt something new!
COLLABORATING: GOING WIKI
I love to engage students in group works. They love it too. Peer learning is much more effective than traditional teaching because it is a more natural way of learning: students support and empower each other and are not stressed by the feeling of being evaluated/judged by an adult with a totally (that's what they think!) set of values. But what really makes the difference is motivation. Peer or group work is nothing if not supported by the desire of reaching a goal. If the goal is a shared one, well that's very likely to become team work. Motivating can be difficult at times: some students tend to boycott any proposal which smells like school. Anyway trying to persuade them can be extremely rewarding. Motivation comes from within, but can be aroused by some simple ingredients: involvement, creativity and reality.
Collaborating tools (my favourite are Padlet, GAfE, Prezi and Whatsapp ) have multiplied the possibilities of sharing points of view and resources, making it really easy to turn the knowledge of one into the wisdom of many.
but i still haven't found what i'm looking for...
I really like my job but after many years I still haven’t found what I’m looking for … even though I’m getting closer to it. What I’m looking for is the “recipe for a cool skool” which implies finding ways to motivate, support, empower and release the potential of students (i.e. people who I see as “the future”) and making them feel cared for. If one of the goals of education is arising awareness and care for the world, environment, others…we as teachers must start first: caring for students.
i care: failures won't stop me
I have been experimenting a lot in the last years: teaching methods, assessing tools, peer learning, flipped classroom, some project based activities, work based learning. The results have been great, medium, low, great, medium but I keep trying.... disregarding the disdainful looks of colleagues who have been teaching for over 30 years and have " their reliable method", (same lesson for thirty years...) and stubbornly trying to overcome my "flipness" i.e. sense of sadness connected with the impossibility to share with next-door colleagues my enthusiasm about flipped classroom :)
love meets all needs
I have always thought that technology and Internet are precious allies for sustaining education and knowledge (I support Wikipedia!) because they multiply opportunities at all levels. In my experience I can say that not all students are alike (1st great finding!) and that all of them have special needs (2nd great finding!) and that their need is a simple and magic ingredient…L O V E (3rd great finding!)They want to feel that you, the adult-teacher, are on their side i.e. that they are important to you, that you are willing to listen to what they have to say and teach and that you believe they can do great things because you trust them.
To learn how they love to learn is a key element to support them and being influential in their learning process, so mixing different teaching styles can be effective to satisfy different needs. Definitely, when working in group and cooperating they feel at ease: they love and care for what they do and want to improve and excel. Especially when they know that what they are doing will not remain in the class but will be presented to an audience or posted in the Internet.
ASSESSING: a multifaceted issue
I use multiple ways of assessment depending on the activity and on the objective. I found that students really love to check their own work, especially when it is an objective test, and that justice and equality are very meaningful to them. And they also love to check other student’s assignments: they become extremely strict and careful with other people’s tests… but they also learn to see things from different perspective and realize that assessing is not that simple and justice can have different shades.
check this out!
One type of assessment that I have tested and which impressed me is based on self-evaluation through checklists. The checklist is basically a list of questions which will scaffold students’ performance while developing it; it helps them to look and verify each step of the activity and self-correct and adjust possible mistakes. Questions in the checklist are simple and straight and refer to specific behaviors (Have you included the reference to the sources? Have you checked in the dictionary the meaning of the words you were using and which were not familiar to you? Have you had someone proofread your work? Have you included different codes like images, word, symbols, colors…? Have you planned the activities?... )
Another self-evaluating tool that I use for group activities is the SWOT analysis. Students are asked to identify strengths and weaknesses (internal factors) as well as opportunities and threats (external factors) of the activities they have planned to realize . After this stage has been completed, they will be asked to find possible solutions to manage their critical points.
Also a final reflection on “what I liked and what could be improved “ has proven effective especially when shared with the rest of the class.
some final thoughts
I really appreciated the invitation to this course for the quality of the ideas and materials proposed.
I am really proud of being on board: it will be an adventurous trip with so many talented and inspiring colleagues devoting their time and love to our future: our kids.
By the way... that's me...
I live in Pordenone, Italy where I teach English L2 and ESP in a business school (students aged 14-20). I love to use technology in the classroom because I think it offers the opportunity to replicate real-life situation very conveniently and creatively. I want my students to participate actively in the learning process and help them think outside the box.