The 21st Century Teaching-Learning Environment
(Think Outside the Classroom Box)
Given the realities of a rapidly changing world, and the definition of an educated person prepared to cope with these changes, the concept of “classroom” must be expanded.
by Hal Portner Continued from page 1
March 1, 2009
Role of the 21st Century Middle and High School Teacher
Getting students involved in their education is more than having them participate. The teacher’s role is to connect students with their education by enabling them to influence and affect their own learning, and allowing them to become enwrapped and engrossed in their educational experiences.
Teachers have to learn and employ a new set of skills where the teacher is more of a questioner and a resource of knowledge than a giver of knowledge. There are, of course, occasions when lecturing or using other modes of giving information is appropriate. On the other hand, lectures can be listened to at home as a podcast. Students can listen to it as many times as needed and make notes of questions to ask in class.
Ignoring or demonizing technology that students willingly and actively use in every other aspect of their lives is not a winning educational strategy.
The sort of teacher I’m envisioning is a person on the move, checking over shoulders, asking questions and teaching mini-lessons for individuals and teams. Support is customized and individualized. She sets clear expectations, provides explicit directions, and keeps the process well structured and productive. She circulates, disciplines, questions, assesses, suggests, validates, facilitates, monitors, challenges, motivates, watches, moderates, diagnoses, trouble-shoots, observes, encourages, suggests, models, clarifies, directs, redirects, and knows when to get out of the way.
The teacher engages students by asking questions: How are you going to approach this problem? What are the resources that you're going to need? How would you know when you're successful? What are the steps in the process that you're going to take?
The teacher helps students develop ways to monitor their own behavior, come up with criteria for governing themselves, and create internal strategies to monitor their progress.
The teacher guides the students’ reflections. ‘What did you learn from this? What did you learn from this that you could apply to future activities? As you were engaged in this activity, what was going on inside your head? How did you know that you were being successful? What did you do when you met with frustration?’
To help the teacher carry out the role of facilitator/coach/resource, the room is set up so that the teacher is accessible to all groups and has room to walk easily from one group to another. When leaving one group to go on to another, the teacher leaves with a “challenge” aimed to raise the bar or to redirect their focus.
Of course, the teacher must establish or negotiate “ground rules” around acceptable behavior and protocol.
Finally, as a teacher assumes the role of facilitator/coach/resource, she should expect to be kept on her toes and therefore open to fine tuning her own practice. She will need to become a steward of her own professional development and her school district must provide appropriate professional development to support her needs.
Role of the 21st Century Middle and High School Student
Students are a few clicks away from being connected to a wealth of data. Google and Wikipedia, for example, have allowed us to find any piece of information or facts we would ever want to know. Why memorize what is right at your fingertips? The key is knowing what facts or information you need, where and how to find them, and whether or not they are accurate and complete.
Daily exposure to digital technologies such as the Internet and smart phones may lead to social awkwardness, an inability to interpret nonverbal messages, isolation and less interest in traditional classroom learning.
Some educators decry the use of anything other than reference books and newspapers, and perhaps television news and documentaries as viable data sources. These media remain important sources of information. However, ignoring or demonizing technology that students willingly and actively use in every other aspect of their lives is not a winning educational strategy. Tapping into the capabilities of modern technology provides a powerful way to engage students and enhance learning both inside and outside of the classroom.
A note of caution: Teenagers tend to use social networks such as MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, etc. to share and access information which may not be reliable. The teacher must insist upon and monitor the importance of original source and verification when accessing information. The teacher should also be aware that daily exposure to digital technologies such as the Internet and smart phones may lead to social awkwardness, an inability to interpret nonverbal messages, isolation and less interest in traditional classroom learning.
In his article “Preparing Creative and Critical Thinkers,” appearing in the Summer 2008 edition of Educational Leadership, Donald J. Treffinger writes, “Once upon a time, educators might have said to their students, If you'll pay close attention to what I'm going to teach you, you'll learn everything you need to know for a successful life. It's doubtful that this message was ever entirely true, but it's certainly not true today. We don't know all the information that today's students will need or all the answers to the questions they will face. Indeed, increasingly, we don't even know the questions.”
How does the teaching-learning environment in your classroom stack up?
Editor’s note: Click on “Discussion” to add your comments about this article and the teaching-learning environment in your classroom.
Hal Portner is a former K-12 teacher and administrator. He was assistant director of the Summer Math Program for High School Women and Their Teachers at Mount Holyoke College, and for 24 years he was a teacher and then administrator in two Connecticut public school districts. From 1985 to 1995, he was a member of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Bureau of Certification and Professional Development, where, among other responsibilities, he served as coordinator of the Connecticut Institute for Teaching and Learning and worked closely with school districts to develop and carry out professional development and teacher evaluation plans and programs.
Portner writes, develops materials, trains mentors, facilitates the development of new teacher and peer-mentoring programs, and consults for school districts and other educational organizations and institutions. In addition to Mentoring New Teachers, he is the author of Training Mentors Is Not Enough: Everything Else Schools and Districts Need to Do (2001), Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés (2002), Workshops that Really Work: The ABCs of Designing and Delivering Sensational Presentations (2005), and editor of Teacher Mentoring and Induction: The State of the Art and Beyond (2005) – all published by Corwin Press. He holds an MEd from the University of Michigan and a 6th-year Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in education admin¬istration from the University of Connecticut. For three years, he was with the University of Massachusetts EdD Educational Leadership Program.