Students in a new universe?

As we grapple with what a student-centered classroom actually looks like in practice, it clearly involves a real shift in our thinking.

Robert Fried points out in The Passionate Learner that “the difference is roughly comparable to that between the Ptolemaic and Copernican views of the solar system.” But as he points out, most of us were raised in one belief system, so even though we acknowledge that the new system should be different, it is still difficult to make that shift. And as he indicates, both parents and students are compliant in this system.

“Adults (administrators, teachers, parents) often find such a view comforting in its lack of ambiguity of who is ‘in charge and who is ‘accountable’ for effectively ‘delivering the curriculum’ Most kids accept it, too, for it reduces their responsibility for motivating themselves and allows them to play at the game of ‘kids versus grown-ups’ whenever they detetect a lapse of authority.”

Sticking to a pre-established system is definitely easier for everyone. And while I tend to agree that kids “accept it” I just wonder how much of it is due to their relinquishing responsibility and how much of it is due to their being trained into compliance from early grades of school, and how much of it is just part of the status quo.

Susan Morgan twittered about a series of student responses to a blog post asking their view of 21st century schools, and it’s interesting to see the variety in their responses but also their sense of how schools aren’t serving them well.

Some of them view the 21st century school as sort of a shiny school of the future, with built in computers, and modern conveniences, reminiscent of how we may have envisioned the future during the 50’s. But other students’ responses reflect an awareness of a different way of engaging with learning evolving, like this astute response:

“School hasn’t changed much, except for the attitude and culture that has been created by the students and faculty. Kids aren’t really afraid of their teachers anymore, and there is more interaction between students during the school day. More and more, we are encouraged to talk in class, and work in groups, do group projects, and peer edit. However, there is still a lot of sitting in class and listening and taking notes. This might be the most basis form of attaining information and learning, but the information is often lost very quickly, unless the notes are revisited. However, the revisiting usually occurs right before a test and is quickly forgotten, the space emptied to make room for more information that will be disposed of just as fast.

It seems that the information I retain the best, is that which is accompanied by pictures, labs, or small anecdotes. We all have different styles of learning that work best, but when all of the senses are involved, the information can be remembered in many ways and on many different levels. It is, therefore, my home[sic] that as the 21st century rolls on, that teaching and learning continues to progress. Technology helps, allowing for visual aids and fast access to information, but it is important to ensure that the vast amount of information is accompanied with a connection, a picture, something that will help students remember the problem, equation, or concept and be able to incorporate it into the real world.”

So what I’m wondering is–how do we encourage students at younger grades to expect more from their education and to be more active participants? Do our students like this current system, or do they, like the students above, see the need for something to be different?

If they are in high school already and used to the “old solar” system, what scaffolding do we provide to help them make the shift and ask for more? How do we empower them?

8 thoughts on “Students in a new universe?

  1. Thanks for linking and using some of my student responses in your post. I often feel that we do not involve students in the change process. The value of student feedback is critical if we are going to make strides in re-thinking how we teach and how students learn.

  2. I agree, and reading your post, it really struck me that for this to become real, we have to involve students in thinking and talking about it.

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    On a small scale, I am seeing this happen in our schools. With about half our elementary classrooms now having SmartBoards (and teachers having training in how to use them interactively), I am hearing more kids express a desire to get into a classroom next year that has the IWB set-up. Will this extend into lobbying parents for particular teachers, who will in turn lobby the school principal? (Which principals hate.)

    There is no doubt that kids’ expectations of teachers and school are growing. Now to see if they can do anything about it!

    Interesting post – thank you.


  4. In many ways, I believe students are ready to receive a learning environment where the approach and more importantly physical setting are more conducive to higher order thinking, creativity and problem solving. It has been my experience that parents on the other hand struggle with classrooms where teachers are exploring and innovative. Some parents realize that we must prepare students for their future not ours. Yet others believe that unless a student is experience a learning environment much like the one they had, their preparation will be lacking.

  5. Carolyn,

    As you know, this conversation, or one very similar to it, is one that I’ve been engaging teachers in lately. One great idea that keeps popping up is the process of unlearning that is going to have to take place when our new class begins in the fall. Since this class is predicated on thinking and writing, there is “right” answer. The teachers are asking the students to think, and then defend that thought. What we are anticipating is a lot of initial revolt at first.

    Why? Students, like you intimate above, have learned that there are right answers and wrong answers, and they have learned, like many of us have in our experiences as well, what the teacher wants. They, as we did, then spend the rest of the semester working on how to give the teacher what they need in order to get whatever grade they want for the class.

    Homeschoolers talk about the process of unlearning that students transitioning from public schools to homeschooling go through. We are anticipating a period of the same. Our students have become good at working the system, and when you think about it, part of what made a lot of us become teachers was our success in the system–another stumbling block.

    Sorry for the generalizations–but I think you are touching on some great points here.

  6. I am so glad you posted about this Carolyn. I was a way for most of the weekend, but didn’t want to thoughts to go unnoticed. This is the very subject of discussion at our school these days, and as Antonia said, parents are often looking for their own experience when they look to their students’ teachers. And Patrick’s comment about homeschoolers and students working the system is one I’ve been rolling around in my head for some time. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *