Evolution of a Teacher’s Toolbox

images-93The recent Teachers’ Conference  was an inspiring experience, now I’ve had time to reflect, these are my own personal highlights from what I learnt.  As with any event, each person will take away their own snapshots and apply it to their own understanding and situation.

These are very personal reflections and I will try to refer to sources wherever possible – and apologize in advance if I portray what was said in a different way to how it was intended or if I get my references wrong.

There were 2 stand-out keynote speakers for me – lots of other very interesting keynotes too, but these were my learning highlights of the week. Listening to Professor Sugata Mitra talking about his Hole in the Wall project was thought-provoking, humbling and puts teachers in their place by putting children in theirs – in control of their learning.

David Rogers reflected on this approach to teaching in his recent blog post here.  Like David, I found this approach by accident, when trying out new tools with the children and finding that sometimes when I take a step back, then they learn even more than when I am controlling every step of their learning experience!

Sometimes this stepping back has been necessitated by “firefighting” the technical hitches that have arisen in class or by needing to spend time with one child/pair/group who needed extra input. This can effectively put our pupils in the same role as Professor Mitra’s children (albeit still in a more structured environment)where they support each other, help each other, figure stuff out in partnership.

Once I’d learned this principle as a teacher, it made it easier to successfully use wikis with the children as part of the collaborative work we did and continue to do – whilst it is in no way as groundbreaking as the Professor’s experiment, I am reassured that the students are going to benefit from using this technique.

The research showed how students are able to achieve a level of success given no adult input and that their achievements improve with an adult supporting them who has no particular knowledge but encourages and supports.  It was incredibly interesting to continue the conversation with Professor Mitra later – my main question was about how this achievement would be affected by adding a knowledgeable adult/teacher into the self-supported learning scenarios he is investigating.

This is apparently the next step in his research and it will be interesting to see what levels and techniques of teacher support, questioning, advice, guidance, modelling will have the best impact on pupil learning and encouraging independence in that learning. It’s something we are constantly juggling with in class, whatever pedagogical approach we are using and it depends on who we are teaching, what we are teaching and many other factors.

But exploring how technology can be used to support independent learning and how to best balance that with teacher input is really important as technology is still such a relatively new tool in our teacher’s toolbox (apologies to Paul Ginnis, whose book I love! Find it here).

I don’t believe technology will end up putting teachers out of a job because I don’t believe all children will become self-motivating, self-supporting learners – our role as teachers is more than imparting knowledge, it is as guides to facilitate and support the learning journey our pupils are on and to help them make the most of the opportunities that are available, whether that is through drama, role-play, games, reading, writing or technology based.

And if Professor Mitra’s subjects could learn so much purely through technology, I wonder how their horizons might be broadened if they had access to learning through a range of other tools teachers use.

So what I will be sharing with my colleagues is that traditional pedagogies have the potential to evolve by using technology to support  more independent learning or collaboration with peers/outside experts.

The keynote speech that also got me thinking was by Jim Wynn (CISCO).  Werner Pruher has also blogged about this keynote here. Whilst I would love to have claimed to be able to read it without any support, I used an online translation tool to be able to access it – hopefully this link will work for you too!

The diagram on Werner’s blog clearly illustrates a shift in the relationship between input, process and outcome, with an increased emphasis on the process skills.  (I think this links well with the shifts in our own National Curriculum towards more emphasis on skills). The slide that really captured my imagination can be seen below:

If I understand it correctly, the blue parts below the red line indicate the classroom.  The bits above the red line show how the learning journey for our pupils can be enhanced and extended through the opportunities that the use of technology offers!!

All the virtual networks – peer support, expert support and collaboration opportunities – combine with the technological tools that help our pupils use, practice, reinforce, investigate, practice, discuss till they reach the final point on their learning journey. For me this takes the BECTA model of learning with and through technology and adds more detail to the extend and empower aspects that we are aiming to get to.

And for me, the implications as I return to school are to take the steps at the beginning of Jim’s learning journey that we have started and use our extended project work to develop increased pupil independence and responsibility.  I think this links very well with Professor Mitra’s work – perhaps Jim’s model of learning helps to explain why the Hole in the Wall students learnt so much with minimal adult input.

And maybe our challenge as teachers is to re-evaluate our contribution to our students’ learning by facilitating those activities that take our pupils through the “Learning Journey Architecture”.  Just as our use of technology in the curriculum has evolved, so our teaching methodology need to evolve to give our pupils experiences that will best enhance their learning and make the most of these new opportunities.

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