Stop Teaching – Start Learning

lecture

Do you ever teach a class?

By ‘teach’ I mean talk to the whole class to share instruction or discuss content. If the answer is yes, then I would like to examine your aims in doing so. The three common reasons for talking to a whole class are:

  • Task instruction;
  • Delivery of content/concept/facts;
  • Class discussion.

I believe that only the first of these 3 can be said to succeed in it’s aims and even then fails often. All forms of learning should offer equal opportunity to all, not only to be involved but succeed in the learning intentions. Every learner deserves to maximise their time available to ensure they definitely learn and grow. People are different and so any one-size-fits-all mechanism is guaranteed to fail to be fair to all. I have spoken to people of all ages who agree that teacher verbal + visuals delivery of content to a large audience (more than 5) only suits a small minority who can focus, retain and process the information as it is shared. Photo Credit

Let’s examine each one in turn.

A. Task instruction

A task instruction should be 5 minutes at most. Even if a list of instructions are verbally delivered to the class, at least they are static, surface level information that can hopefully be easily repeated and spread through the class by the learners themselves. I’ve seen many teachers upset that tasks were not carried out as per instruction but this is solved by ensuring their is a mechanism or practice designed to receive and record the instructions. This is the least of our worries.

B. Delivery of content (big topic!)

Question: Why is traditional class teaching / lecturing still so popular?

Answer: It’s the easiest option available to any teacher. They know their topics, they know their script, they did the same lecture last year (most of the time) and thus it requires no preparation, no planning of student activity, no thought as to the current relevance of the content and in most schools, nobody will complain as students will be blamed for not ‘studying’ if they fail. Easy!

An important aim should be that every moment in the development of young people in schools is fully inclusive. Even the idea that a variety of teaching techniques is ok suggests that waisting the time of 50% of learners for 40 minutes is ok as we’ll cater for them later on. This is not good education.

Stop Teaching - @iPadwells

10 assumptions behind teaching a whole class (single-point delivery of content) are that:

  1. All listeners are listening. If they’re not, that’s their fault.
  2. If listening, all listeners can absorb information at the same pace.
  3. All students will be present for this once-a-year performance. If not, too bad.
  4. All listeners understand at the same level. (Your delivery caters for both slow and fast processors equally)
  5. All listeners only require the one delivery (or you’ll be repeating yourself any number of times)
  6. All learners hold the courage to stop you and ask questions publicly (Self esteem has no impact on learning)
  7. There’s not much that can be done as some learners are just better at ‘learning’.
  8. Delivery style can make teaching ‘entertaining’ and thus work for most. (after all, you can’t cater for all)
  9. Students ask for lectures, they like them and these requests have nothing to do with a desire to passively disengage during the teacher’s ‘performance’
  10. Some kids are just cut out for school more than others and can concentrate. That’s life!

Even if you accept that only some of the assumptions above are not true then you have to accept that by not catering for all, delivery of content to any audience larger than about 5 people, fails immediately in it’s aim to include all in the learning. Education must move on and take much more flexible, student-centred forms if it is to fulfil its aims for all learners.

First Step

The next question for most teachers is: how can I get through all this content whilst catering for all types of learners and offering flexibility?

Your first step into student-centred learning is to remove the one-size-fits-all delivery and “Flip” the content online. Flipped teaching is a few years old now and has been presented as a structured programme of: “watch the lesson for homework, then do activity in class.” I prefer to not structure it so much. Once I’ve said and shown what I need online, I can feel confident to handover the designing of activities to the student.

Some students share headphones to watch the teaching videos in class, some watch at home and some don’t need the lesson at all. Everyone goes at their own pace and I challenge the whole class to only prove certain understandings or solve certain problems. The time freed up by not teaching the whole class allows me to dedicate all my time to individuals or small groups requesting extra assistance. This also allows the students to involve more people outside the class in their projects.

First App – Teach the way you’ve always done but more efficiently.

Here’s a little intro into the Explain Everything App. My first Flipping tool 2 years ago. All teachers need to know their year long courses are actually only 3 hours of teaching, once you remove the pauses,  tangents, diagram-drawing time, mistakes etc. I’ve recorded 7 high school courses for ages 14 to 18 and they all came under 3 hours. 1st time Flipped teachers don’t know what to do with themselves.

i4S-Explain Everything-iPadWells

C: Class Discussion

This is a grey area and can depend on the skills of the teacher. Designing how the discussion will include all and then how to manage the discussion as it takes place is tricky.  Very few people have the skills to really have everyone in the room feeling confident they can be involved. Large group discussion can be heavily influenced by personalities, which can act as obstacles to the aim that all learn equally. Unless you divide the room into smaller discussion groups and help structure how each individual will feel included, discussion can rarely succeed in all its aims.

Conclusion

If your young or old learners have devices, they are free to access your teaching when and however it suits them. It is time to open up learning as something they do in life, tackle and enjoy together and not just something they receive from a single point at a single time. Learning is also something every teacher should be doing and it is most important that every teacher model good learning behaviour. Technology has quickly changed the educational landscape and it’s time for all teachers to learn to navigate and be part of this landscape.

I posted more ideas about why this is important here: iPad Teaching is NOT about iPads

SAMR – The common truth

There’s lots of talk of the SAMR model, which simplifies the common process that people go through when introducing any technology, designed by Ruben R. Puentedura. This of course applies to introducing iPads too. There are 1000s of great examples of iPad use in primary / elementary schools but not as many in high schools. I thought I would produce a version of this process that is common with many teachers in secondary / high schools. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but might give some people ideas about how it relates directly to pedagogy.

I have many colleagues who have gone through something very similar to this:

iPadwells SAMR 2

‘The task’ vs. ‘My task’

“Teacher, I’ve finished your work” 

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It can be easier for a teacher managing a class of iPadding students to design projects where students own their own learning and thus care about the quality of their outcomes. For me, ensuring students care is my primary goal when designing tasks and programs. If they are doing ‘the teacher’s work’ then any motivation to produce the best result will probably have to come from external sources, like material rewards from the teacher or even as simple as making the teacher happy (Teacher’s pet). The teacher’s work is always seen as ‘work’ and genuine engagement is difficult.

Intrinsic Motivation

Here is a list of ideas for adding incentives to tasks to help the kids intrinsically care about the outcomes.

  1. Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 2.09.33 PMThe success criteria should be devised by the students themselves before commencing any task. These should be discussed and agreed upon by the class or group. Design a success criteria template that’s always filled in by the group.
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  2. Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 2.11.44 PMThe teacher  only asks questions. Give no answers. Students should find their own answers and be taught to confirm them with more than one source including each other’s research.
    e.g. Try to always prompt for output with ‘Why’ questions and never start a lesson with “today class we will…” because who knows what the kids will do in todays lesson!
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  3. head-37523_640Choose a creative & fun task for all and / or allow freedom of expression (choice of app) but remind students of the success criteria.
    e.g. You must record a TV news story containing an interview but it must explain how X affected Y. This will be shown on the class TV channel.
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  4. 6181049228_4dbbf2c9aeFocus on the students producing ‘products’ that could actually be used to benefit others, be they classmates or the community. Even if it’s not used in the end, work should seem purposeful and be seen as usable in the real world.
    e.g. If you are writing stories then ensure they look into how one self-publishes online. This opens the possibly of a real audience with real feedback. student blogs are an obvious starting point but why shouldn’t a child consider starting their writing career now, earning real cash? (There are examples online of this happening)
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  5. 1272px-Internet1I think the world is getting to a point where evidence of all student work should be stored / published online. My students always react with amazement when they first realise the videos / animations are going onto Youtube on my dept. channel. This creates an environment where students can easily peer review and encourage but also parents too, which I find has the biggest impact on motivation.

I have started to have a go at this with my year 7s and 8s and am now considering how future senior classes who have iPads will also own their learning whilst still working towards the national qualifications. I am lucky as the New Zealand assessment system if very flexible and I look forward to the challenge!

True learning is creative! … iPad, please!

The iPad empowers students to create products within any subject context, physical space and even on the move. This is why the iPad is so important in transforming education into a genuine learning experience, not a knowledge absorption space. This well known Ken Robinson video has, for a while, indicated the importance of creative process in learning. Creating is important because during the process of creating something new, a student is:

  1. the owner of that process
  2. fully immersed in the experience
  3. genuinely engaged
  4. driven by and personally connected to the learning objectives

Under these four circumstances, you create truly life-long learners, who are intrinsically motivated by their own demands and ideas.

 (picture via @gcouros)

Common misconception 1:
“My subject’s not creative”

Many teachers do not see creative process as part of their subject. The factory based education system used throughout the 20th century, isolated subjects as disconnected silos of information and creativity was removed from most of these study areas and confined specifically to the arts subjects only. This is not how the real world operates and creative thoughts and processes are demanded in most, if not all industries. All subject areas within schools (while those areas still exist), must harness both the students’ genuine will to create and the iPads power to enable this in so many forms and under so many circumstances.

Common misconception 2:
“I can’t grade & compare different creative output styles”

What exactly does grading do for a student? It gives them a record of how they compare with their classmates or even national year-group. What does this positioning mean? … nothing! The minute you leave school you will be working and competing with different groups of people of various ages and your grade comparison becomes meaningless immediately. Yes, you looked amazing in your school when up against your fellow students  performing standardised tests, but now you’re suddenly struggling against people from different backgrounds and may even look quiet incompetent.

Students also become distracted from their learning when focusing purely on their grade comparison with their friends. This removes any interest in learning for the sake of bettering oneself and even engagement with the objective of the tasks. Students take shortcuts and do anything that would increase the grade regardless of the impact it might have on truly understanding concepts or not. Students also find it very difficult, if they can do it at all, to articulate what an A or a B means. The grades themselves are arbitrary and mean nothing in terms of personal achievement and only make the lower grade achievers give up on learning anything.

This UK BBC documentary, The Classroom Experiment, covered many common traditional teaching habits that actually do harm rather than good in education, including grades:

A shifting agenda

An increasing number of educators are agreeing that:

  1. Personal creative processes should replace fixed content delivery and
  2. meaningful comments from both peers and teachers should replace meaningless grades

The iPad is both a personal creative device and a great tool for collaboration and documenting discussion. This is the basis on why and roughly how schools should push forward with 1-to-1 iPad integration.

USA Education vs. iPad

It is common for outsiders (like me) to picture America as:

  1. conservative (traditional and proud of their American way);
  2. security conscious (all ‘foes’ must be known and controlled);
  3. having a poor standardized public education system (Something the US is currently debating publicly – “Waiting for Superman

If true, all 3 ‘generalizations’ would have an extremely detrimental effect on introducing iPads in schools. Below is a personal view of how these 3 factors will impact on the success of iPads in transforming American education.

  1. The new mobile world needs new thinking (not conservative)
    I found a blog post, glowingly discussing the iPads potential to transform education and you might think I’d agree with it. But for me, most the writing and attached picture sum up all the obstacles facing iPad integration in the US. The article does mention collaboration and iMovie (specifically only in regards to FIlm courses), but essentially describes the iPad as a great note-taker, textbook and consumption device. That consumption is of the teacher’s education. In particular, the image advocates standardized education where one-size-fits-all and a teacher is the only source of learning. Here’s an indication of what I’m getting at in two images:

    As a simple starting point, american schools must dismantle the traditional classroom layout which isolates the students as mere educational factory products and places the teacher at the centre of all learning. This is simply not the way the world operates anymore.

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  2. The world no longer recognizes the carrot & stick external control.
    One of the driving theories behind 20th century education was the idea that given a choice, students would not want to be at school. This thinking led to the traditional carrot and stick approach, where rewards were offered for conforming to the teacher’s demands and punishments issued for breaking from the “norm.” The article mentioned above, also positively refers to how “schools can be in control of what applications are on the device as well as what students do with it.” This desire for control is only needed within the out-dated education model that expects students to conform to an education put upon them rather than expecting them to enjoy exploring and understanding the world they live in. If it’s the school’s education, a student might not feel a connection and avoid it. This is where external control is required. If the education is student-centred and demands the student prove themselves within an open-ended model, then the student can genuinely connect as best suits them and the control measures will be detrimental to the freedom and thus are not required. The iPad is a personal device and pushes a personal education agenda. The iPad is not a school device, ready to deliver an externally controlled experience of the world. Read this book for more info.
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  3. Poor education?
    Until the US reduces its devotion to 1 & 2, and stops trying to press a pre-written education into every american, then iPads will never be allowed to transform learning. As I’ve mentioned before, The professional and personal worlds we now live in are both personally curated and social. Young people now have these factors as normal life expectations and school systems that isolate individuals physically & academically will not seem relevant and will cause disconnect and continue to fail.

A 21C Teacher in a 20C School

I teach to the exam. There, I’ve said it!  After all, doesn’t everyone smile when the student gets an A grade? Isn’t graduating what’s life’s all about?
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But what does A mean?
It means that when given:

  1. An exam date;
  2. A fixed list of topics and themes;
  3. Last minute, panicked revision;
  4. A table and paper in a large silent hall;  ..the student can perform! Wow!

Thank God, life outside schools and every workplace is both silent, organised in straight rows and has no technology beyond the pencil! Thank God working life only means working alone within fixed boundaries. ….Oh that’s right, it’s not. And many of these A grade students prove to be useless when given any creative challenge in a real workplace scenario, something universities and employers complain about. Fortunately most develop many skills outside school that allow them to cope.

Solution: Make the exam the side-project

One joy of working in this crappy system of 20th Century factory education is that now with the Internet and video I can record each of my full-year courses’ exam lessons into about 4 hours! Yes, 4 hours and yes, it’s the full course of teaching! See this for details.

The direct teaching of the exam is now outside the classroom. I can ask them to complete an amount of the course by a certain date and check this with traditional assessment while they spend all the class time working on a related project of their choosing and design. If there’s a practical element to the course then all projects and time can be based on this practical work, within the context of a real-world scenario.

These projects can be long, the whole year for all I care! They can also work in groups if it suits. As long as the project is engaging for the student and they take real ownership over it. They should also set their own check points to monitor their own progress. Ownership, creativity and variety is what the iPad does best. Hopefully the project connects directly with the outside world directly. I like to pitch the possibility of making money in any area using the internet. For example, any student can publish a book for free.

Examples: (Off the top of my head)

  1. Biology: Produce a set of videos covering the relevant experiments to compile in an ebook to sell online.
  2. Geography: Film a documentary on the local geography for the school to use.
  3. Computing: Make $million with your first iPad app!!! (I heard the “Pocket Whip” app was making $30,000 a week and it doesn’t do much!)
  4. Mathematics: Learn how to produce a website of embedded web-based Maths tools that your peers need for the course you’re all doing.
  5. English: Publish a short story on Amazon that contains the same themes as X.

Conclusion

The important thing is that they are engaged in your subject and see the exam as an unfortunate extra rather than the whole reason for school. If they need to learn how to do something during their project, they find it themselves on the internet  (this is what they should do, it’s what we do!) or if the teacher can help then great, as the teacher now has time to work one-to-one!

iPad vs Standardised test

TASK

Student A has an iPad and is asked to show they understand Topic X

Student B is given a textbook and then a written test on Topic X

APPROACH

Student A uses the internet on the iPad to research current views regarding what’s important about Topic X and considers how it might be best illustrated using the numerous tools available on the iPad.

Student B reads the fixed content in the textbook (written 12 years ago) and considers how the questions might be framed in the test within the context of the given text.

OUTPUT

Student A uses the iPad to storyboard a documentary that they will film with friends and edit on the iPad to illustrate their understanding of Topic X.

Student B reads the given text and seeing the Topic now has fixed boundaries asks friends if they’ve had a test on Topic X before and looks on the internet for past exam papers on Topic X.

RESULT

Student A has ownership over the process and is intrinsically motivated to produce the best product and gains a deeper understanding of Topic X.

Student B is motivated by the attainment of a score in the test and as it’s not a goal he decided on, will take any shortcut to achieve this score, including rote learning answers for the test but often leaving revision to the night before. The teacher hopes that being focused on obtaining a good test score, understanding of Topic X will be an obvious by-product.

EVALUATION

Student A has the documentary peer reviewed by other students who enjoy watching the film and explain which elements of Topic X are best illustrated. Student A re-films a sequence to improve the film they have developed and will never forget making.

Student B finishes with 66 out of a 100 in Topic X and moves on to Topic Y.

iPad = Autonomy = Passion

A desire to create Life-long learners can only be achieved if the learning in question is owned by the learner. If students work from the same textbook and sit the same exam, it is the teacher’s education not theirs and a genuine connection to the learning process is never formed. Introduction of iPads in schools should come in conjunction with a move away from the 20th Century idea that students don’t want to learn and external incentives must be applied. Given autonomy over the learning process means that a student with an iPad can find genuine enjoyment in all learning. They can enjoy displaying their talents whilst developing new ones in an environment that understands that humans do enjoy both working and learning. They just need freedom to choose the technique and time at which they will achieve the desired result. The iPad means that no student is restricted to only those tools on offer by the teacher or classroom.

Now that many global businesses (Google, Apple, Best Buy) are abandoning their 20th Century work structures, schools must follow suit or face becoming irrelevant within five years.

Four things that kill true motivation to learn:

1. Tests

2. Textbooks \ worksheets

3. Chalk & talk

4. Content based Qualifications.

Please start thinking about the chasm opening up between school life and ‘real’ life. Think about how fast the world is changing and developing and how relevant your students’ activities are when under your supervision.

There’s nothing more depressing than seeing 100% on a test. Imagine what that student could have achieved without the ceiling imposed by the fixed content.