How to create a learner who is equipped for life and work in the 21st Century is a big topic of discussion and needs a mind shift in education to do this. THIS is a skills learning topic that I have been wanting to cover for some time now. What should a 21st Century classroom look like? What should 21st Century learning look like? Finally what does a 21st Century learner look like?
THIS is how we can create learners ready for life and work in the 21st Century. The first thing to do is to create classrooms which are manged by ‘Leaders of Learning’ and to make a conscious move away from the idea of a being a ‘Teacher’. The second thing to do is create classrooms that have Independent Learners. Learners who are not passive in their learning but who are actually deeply engaged in and making decisions on developing their skills for learning. Learners need to move away from that of being a reliant learner to being an active learner.
A couple of definitions to get the ball rolling (Examples from ‘Collins’ online dictionary):
Teacher: ‘a person whose occupation is teaching others, especially children’.
Leader: ‘a person who rules, guides, or inspires others’.
Learner: ‘someone who is learning something; beginner’
Independent: ‘capable of acting for oneself or on one’s own’
If a teachers occupation is that of ‘teaching others’ then learners will continue to be passive in the classroom and should be able to absorb knowledge enough to be able to pass exams. In my opinion therefore teachers in this sense are information givers. Let’s look at what a leader is? Someone who ‘guides or inspires’; a learner is someone who is ‘learning something or a beginner’. So if we had someone who is leading a classroom that can inspire and guide others in learning then that would be a great starting point. To be fair, I would suggest that most teachers inspire, or they would not be teachers for long. But does a teacher ‘guide’ or does a teacher ‘tell’? If it is the latter then we are not providing the opportunity for young people to develop skills for the 21st Century. Let’s bring in the word ‘Independent’. That is the ‘capability’ or the skill of acting on one’s own. I am not suggesting any learner can act on their own at all times but they must be given the opportunity to be able to develop that skill.
So this is where we must move away from the traditional idea of a teacher and towards a leader of learning who will inspire and guide learners to be independent. The final thing we need to address is the classroom environment. The classroom cannot be set up in a 1950’s style straight rows with the teacher at the front and all the learners lined up. This will never have the effect of creating an environment that is conducive to developing skills that learners can use for higher education and the workplace.
What does Leading for Learning look like in the classroom?
Experts have called this type of learning ‘Student centered learning’ and others ‘Independent learning’ and have come up with ways of explaining this. In truth, for me it is a mixture. Whether you are putting the learner at the center or developing independent learning you are giving the learner ownership of their own learning. To what degree is up to the leader of learning and it may depend on how advanced that class of learners are in this skill.
Let me give you an example of how this can be carried out in a school or college setting.
Firstly the learners must be actively and cooperatively learning and working on activities around problem solving or a question that they can become engaged in. If they are encouraged to inquire that will raise their engagement in the activity or the subject area. Cooperative learning can also be independent learning because when involved in a team structure each person has their own responsibility, which contributes to the overall team performance.
As you will have been able to tell from my other blogs, I love getting the learners to work cooperatively as that is what we do as adults in the working environment. When doing this it is important that learners feel that they are allowed to make mistakes or get it wrong. After all it is making mistakes or getting it wrong, that make us better at what we do. Mistakes and getting it wrong should happen every day in learning and should be encouraged!
A very basic way of encouraging such behaviour in learners is to offer a question that they need to find the answer for. Then create it in such a way that allows the learners to work together in groups of 2-4 which could be easily set up in a classroom situation. A question I could ask in my Business Studies lessons would be; How can we find out about X organisation and the quality of customer service they provide? This empowers the students to work in teams and decide how to approach the problem. The Leader of Learning could create a learning framework for the group that gives instructions that each person in the group must take on a role and responsibility towards the overall team goal or question answer. This further empowers the teams to take responsibility for their own learning and how they will approach the task in their own way and more importantly how they they will learn. The key part to this task is that learners are told that they have to take on their own individual responsibility and make their own decisions. Therefore becoming Independent, cooperative and active. Do this as often as possible. I would try and do something however small in every lesson. As a teacher you then find yourself quickly becoming a Leader of learning.
THIS is what I know about learning and encouraging young people to become both cooperative and independent learners. Its a life long process that involves making mistakes and then learning from those mistakes along the way. This will be a mind shift for educational curriculum’s. Leaders of Learning need to become open minded and more creative in the classroom. Teachers HAVE to become Leaders of Learning and this may take time but change has to happen! I know from my own experience of being a curriculum leader and a teacher that this mind shift will create skilled and academically successful young people better prepared for life and work in the 21st Century.