Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Evolution of Education: From Teacher to Co-Learner

One of my sixth-grade students once said to me, "God invented Google, because people don't have all the answers".  I thought that was hilarious, but also very ironic, which made it very interesting to me.  It made me realize that individuals don't have all the answers, which is why Google is so powerful.  It allows people to share their knowledge and expertise with the world.  This ultimately led me to this blog post about why teachers should be co-learners with our students, because my student is right, we as teachers don't have all the answers that our students need!

There is an old saying, If you give a man to fish, he eats for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. This statement is very true in the context of classroom teaching.  When teachers provide the information that students need to learn, students become dependent on their teachers for the answers.  When teachers provide an opportunity for students to seek the information, students become dependent on themselves for the answers. Which of these teaching models do you think supports 21st century life-long learners?

We as teachers need to move away from the traditional "stand and deliver" teaching model to that of the "guide on the side" teaching model.  We need to start thinking of ourselves as co-learners rather than teachers.  One study claims that "Effective teachers of digital-age learners will be challenged to move away from models of teaching and learning as isolated endeavors. As they model work and learning that reflects inventive thinking and creativity, teachers must become comfortable as co-learners with their students and with colleagues around the world." [1]

The "stand and deliver" teaching model died years ago, yet teachers are still using it in their classrooms.  For example, lots of teachers misuse their Interactive Whiteboards as a technological vehicle for delivering information to their students. These teachers believe that if they are using the latest technology, then their students must be engaged and will learn via technology-infused instruction.  Let me tell you, best-practice teaching is not about the technology, trust me!

Think about the following statement: "Tell me and I will forget.  Show me and I will remember.  Involve me and I will learn."  Teachers who "stand and deliver" are telling and showing students, rather than involving them. Co-learning with students involves them in the learning process and they are more likely to learn the information, rather than just remembering it, or even worse, forgetting it.

So what is co-learning exactly?

"In its ideal form, co- learning: acts toward student empowerment; it dismantles asymmetrical power relationships in the classroom; it builds a more genuine “community of practice”; and co- learning moves students and teachers toward dynamic and participatory engagement in creating a peaceful and sustainable world." [1] 

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the answer to everything.  I think that its extremely important for teachers to check their pride at the door when they walk into the school building. My goal is NOT to show my students how much I know, rather my goal is for my students to show me how much they know! As a co-learner, I strive to give my students the confidence and learning tools that they will need to independently answer their own questions and solve their own problems. To create a "community of practice" I tell my students that I don't have all the answers for them, but that I will support them in their endeavor to find the answers.  This creates a comfortable learning environment for my students to harness their inquiry by exploring answers to their own questions. 

In a co-learning environment, what is the role of the students?  What is the role of the teacher?

"The concept of co-learning ... changes the role sets of teachers and students from dispensers and receptacles of knowledge to joint sojourners on the quest for knowledge, understanding, and dare I say wisdom. Positioning oneself as a co- learner when teaching requires much unlearning of cultural conditioning because it challenges the traditional authoritative, dominant and subordinate role sets in schooling environments and the unequal power relationships in wider spheres of our world." [2]

Student role:
  • The empowered inquirer [2]

Co-learner roles:
  • Scaffold Builder and Critical Reflection Enhancer:  one who assesses student knowledge and builds scaffolding to extend that knowledge to a broader and deeper understanding.  Asking co-learners to reflect on what is being learned and the process of learning (meta-reflection about process) are important. [2]
  • Facilitator of Learning: a facilitator doesn’t get in the way of learning by imposing information. A facilitator guides the process of student learning. Practical behaviors: learning from student inquiry projects; connecting student knowledge to other ideas or fields of knowledge; acting as an active support for learning endeavors. [2]

Below are some key phrases and responses that I use with my students as a co-learner.
  • If I tell you the answer, how am I helping you to learn how to answer your own questions?
  • What if you want to know the answer to a question you have outside of school? What would you do?
  • That is a great question!  Let's look it up!
  • I don't know the answer to that question ... what do YOU think?  How can we find the answer?
  • I've never heard of that before ... tell me more about it. 
  • What is a tool or application that we know about that will help us to solve this problem?
  • If you are not sure how to spell that word, what are some resources that you could use to help you?
  • Where should we look in the book to find information on that topic?
  • What would be an effective online search to yield good results on this topic?

Bottom Line:  If you show passion for the love of learning, then your students will too!

  1. The Future of Instruction: Teacher as 'Co-Learner':
  2. Empowerment Pedagogy: Co-learning and Teaching:

1 comment:

  1. what a enlightment. thanks for sharing your thoughts. e