Knowledgeable vs. Knowledge-able



"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." - John Dewey

Gone are the days when educators should stand and deliver content and have students memorize basic facts that they might need to use some day. Students can easily perform a quick Google search on a mobile device to find this information. In today’s world, our job is to help our students become creative, critical thinkers who can learn how to access and use the world’s information to help them solve complex problems.  In other words, we need to help our students become more "knowledge-able".

Unfortunatley, I would argue that the majority of our education system today is still heavily based on producing "knowledgeable" or "well-informed" students.  This type of system traditionally relies on teacher-centered, direct instruction of state and national standards.  What's more, teachers are expected to transfer their knowledge to their students so that they can later regurgitate this information on standardized tests.  And due to high-stakes standardized tests, teachers often become isolated in a competitive culture by continuously measuring and comparing student outcomes.  Put simply, too much emphasis is being put on the "content" rather than the "process" of learning.

But, by focusing on the process, we as educators can help our students learn how to learn. And with the right guidance we can teach our students to become "knowledge-able" by learning how to acquire new information and skills.  In other words, we want students to know what to do, when they don't know what do to.

Inquiry-based learning is a great way for students to accomplish this goal.  With inquiry-based learning, teachers transfer the ownership of learning to their students and provide them with unique opportunities to seek answers to meaningful questions, and tackle problems for which the solutions are unknown.

How to craft meaningful questions.

Crafting meaningful questions is arguably the most difficult part of inquiry-based learning.  Students might be able to produce a lot of questions, but it is important for them to learn how to adapt, refine, and prioritize their questions in order to develop a single driving question.  I particularly like the Question Formulation Technique created by the Right Question Institute. I first learned about this technique from reading the book, Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  I found that this questioning technique really helps students learn how to ask better questions, both individually and collectively as a class.

How to access and apply useful information from resources.

After students craft their driving question, they need to determine what information is needed for them to answer their question, and how they can find this information.  This skill is more commonly known as information literacy. Then, they need to determine the best, and most credible, resources for finding this information.  Resources can include Google searches, books, websites, databases, YouTube videos, active research, hands-on experience, and people who are experts in their field. Sometimes it is helpful for teachers to provide support to students who might need help finding and accessing these resources by providing some appropriate options for them.

How to think creatively and critically to solve problems.

In order to get the most productivity out of students, it is often helpful to provide them with problem solving strategies.  Some of these strategies include variations of the engineering design process and the scientific method.  One of my favorite variations of the design process comes from the book, LAUNCH by John Spencer and A. J. Juliani. However, some students might prefer not to reference these types of processes and try to use their own method of solving a problem.  Regardless of their method choice, it is important to allow students to struggle with the learning process, encourage them to troubleshoot, and praise their efforts when they persevere.

The last part — and arguably the most important part of critical thinking — is to have students engage in reflection.  Without metacognitive thinking, students do not always learn.  I agree with John Dewey when he once said, "We don't learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience."  In other words, we gain experience by doing, but we gain knowledge by reflecting. Therefore, providing time and space for students to reflect throughout the process will help them to become more effective learners.

Final thoughts

If we want our students to become independent, lifelong learners, then we need to create more meaningful learning opportunities. Opportunities that allow our students to be naturally curious and work together to solve complex problems. Opportunities that allow them to use technology to access information and creatively communicate their understanding. And opportunities that value the process more than the product. If we can continue to provide our students with this type of innovative education, then we are on the right track to preparing more "knowledge-able" students for their future in the digital age.

After all, "There is no guarantee that creative thinking will increase test scores, but who would you rather have take a test:  a disengaged trained test-taker or a fully engaged creative thinker?” - Spencer and Juliani.

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