Students as Learners

Maybe this is me, the traditionalist teacher, kicking back against all the wonderful reading, researching and thinking I’ve been doing about future learning and e-learning that re-inspires my passion for teaching, but something that’s playing on my mind is all the emphasis on the need for teachers to shift.

There is a recurring theme which gets phrased in a multitude of ways about teachers having to shift to being ‘facilitators’, or ‘designers’ or  ‘learning coaches’ … the need to move from being the ‘sage on the stage to the guide on the side’.  Now, I’m seriously not disagreeing with this.  One of e-learning’s greatest potentials, I believe, is the self-directed and personalised learning that can be unlocked.  And this does require a fundamental change in teachers’ pedagogy and practice.  However, it strikes me that just as teachers need a mind shift, so do students.

This little nugget of an idea, which refuses to leave me, was sparked by a comment by Terry Heick: “Students hopefully learn, but the word ‘student’ connotes compliance …. As a teacher I wanted a class full of learners, but the grading process was giving me a lot of students who were learning to play the game.”

In other words, not just teachers need to move and adjust, but students need to move and adjust to become learners.

There is an automatic tension here, particularly for secondary school students who are trained by assessment practices to credit-count and prioritise activities that ‘count’, rather than value learning as its own, never-ending goal.

Similarly, this blog post from Katrina Schwartz seems to me to really honour the skills that successful teachers have, regardless of their embracing of technology or not: “No matter what kind of technology is being used, classrooms are full of rambunctious kids who need a teacher with strong classroom management skills and the ability to set a positive classroom culture.”

Perhaps a useful concept which might serve the purpose of embracing these two shifts, and one that is pertinent to a New Zealand context is ako: which can mean both to teach and to learn, and thus can equally encompass the teacher and the student simultaneously.  We need to foster mutual, reciprocal relationships whereby ‘teachers’ and ‘students’ can learn with and from one another.

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