Education: Behind The Noise Of The ’21st Century Learner’

In my #tiegrad class, I was recently asked to consider whether or not our current schools/teachers/curriculum are preparing students for the 21st century?

I think it’s fair to say that schools, teachers, and curriculum want to meet the needs of their learners regardless of the century they occupy.  They want to produce independent thinkers who contribute to society in positive ways, and learners who are encouraged to reach their full potential.

Are they doing enough?

Probably not, but it isn’t from lack of trying.  Everyday I am surrounded by deeply passionate educators, who deliver curriculum in meaningful and innovative ways, work hard towards building robust relationships with students, in districts who desperately want to see successful children arriving at school doors every morning.

In order for curriculum to meet the needs of its learners it cannot be revised every 4+ years.  It’s in the area of curriculum where I find educators excel, and the work they do is sometimes under appreciated.  They have become extremely skilled at using curriculum as a guide before tweaking, contorting, and manipulating its content to make it relevant for their learners.  I don’t know a single teacher who isn’t working their socks off at making curriculum relevant.  It might not follow current ‘trends’ in education but who’s to say that it’s not meaningful to the group it’s being shared with.

By now it is unquestionable that our current education system was designed for a different era, and needs an overhaul.  Learners grouped by age instead of interest/ability, sat in desks for the majority of the day, learning a compartmentalized curriculum, and primarily focused on individual success and recognition.  The world is moving in a different direction and education is in danger of being left behind.  If our current education system operated in the business world, then it would have folded long ago.  In its defense, there isn’t the kind of money allotted to make the kind of sweeping changes that occur often in the corporate world.  Schools are asked to do more with less and strain is clear to see.  When high schools are so overpopulated that PE teachers are required to conduct their lessons in the hallways then there is an obvious problem.  Perhaps there are too many individual groups (Ministry of Education, school boards, school districts, DPACS, principals, parents, union, and teachers) within the system trying to advocate for their own methods of reform, that it is difficult to hear the message through the noise.  The British Columbia Ministry of Education is in the process of revising its curriculum through its much-touted BC Education Plan. Will it be enough?  Only time will tell whether it will support those asked to convey its new vision of a changing world and changing learner.  I agree with the BC Education Plan’s message that student’s need to be at the center of their learning.  In fact, the more I read about student centered learning from the likes of Angela Maiers’s The Passion Driven Classroom, Will Richardson’s Why School, and Daniel Pink’s Drive, the more I realize the importance of learner choice in education.  Learners need time in their weekly schedule to find their passions and follow their own learning path.  I particularly enjoyed watching Shelley Wright’s TED Talk about the power of student learning.  In it she talks about a pedagogical awaking under the guidance of Alex Couros.

“For the first time I began to realize that maybe my students could construct their learning.  That learning is constructed in community, and that maybe they would be the centre of it, maybe they would have something to say about it.…”  Shelley Wright.

Student centered learning promotes lifelong learning, stimulates creativity, fosters a healthy sense of inquiry, and leads to increased engagement in the subject matter.

As I continue to shape and reshape my own pedagogy through the experiences I have at school, my own lifelong learning, and the professional networks I have developed, I have come to realize certain facts about learners in the 21st Century.  I know that curriculum needs to be relevant and meaningful to its users.  I know that learners need time to follow paths of inquiry, and be encouraged to take risks. I know that the social and emotional needs of my students need to be met before any learning can take place, and there is a unhealthy fear of failure in our schools.  Most importantly, a robust, flexible, and rigorous public education system is more important than ever.

One comment

  1. Thanks so much for sharing the Shelley Wright TED Talk link. It was wonderful to see such a passionate educator who went from being ‘master of the universe’ to a student directed teacher. It is a big risk to let go and try something new. The more teachers share these experiences with each other the more willing others will be to try. Some days there seem to be so many barriers to 21st century learning. However, the more teachers share these experiences with each other the more willing others will be to try. I would love to see TED talks such as this shared with parents and teachers at parent nights and pro D events. As Mardelle referenced in her blog, there are innovators and early adopters of any new initiative- but how do we reach the majority?

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