Will Richardson: Preparing Students to Learn Without Us

Wow. I read this article when I received the magazine in February and remember it being powerful. But re-reading it now, it kind of scares me.

In a way, the article lays out a challenge to me as a teacher, and in that challenge are calls for, essentially, seismic shifts of the tectonic plates of traditional
education.  ‘Time and place’ learning, personalized learning, even differentiation with a small ‘d’ are not quite adequate enough for reaching and empowering today’s learners who live in a world of personal choice 24/7, who need to be shown how to learn on their own. (Indeed, I have students who already have ‘outgrown’ this version of the school system, and online learning, such as The Khan Academy, facilitates this ‘spreading of the wings’).

Richardson discusses re-formatting the very nature of the classroom experience, the curriculum, and the role of the teacher — and this is scary and exhilarating to think about.  Sacred, time-honoured texts and lessons and activities would be supplanted by learning objectives that serve as the north star to follow, and with this objectives in place, the students choose the content, the product and even the pace. That’s a pretty massive shift in the structure of learning.

Furthermore, the mantra of “We need to prepare them for university” casts a pretty long shadow over — and even extinguishes — initiatives, such as ‘personal learning’, before they even gets a chance to be discussed, let alone be introduced in an experimental fashion.

I do, however, have a few questions:

  1. One element to ‘personal learning’ is that it relies upon or is facilitated by web 2.0. What if computer access is limited in the home and in the school?
  2. What if students are uncomfortable with this form of learning?
  3. What if only one teacher engages in this type of learning and it goes contrary to what other teachers in a department or school are teaching?
  4. What are the mechanics of managing 20 to 30 students in a classroom setting?
  5. What are the mechanics of managing ‘assessing in the moment’?

Nonetheless, I am definitely intrigued by the ideas Richardson puts forward here, and perhaps part of the scariness of this article is that asks me to ask myself, “What is my role as a teacher? The repository of all knowledge on a topic? The gatekeeper? A people-manager? A facilitator? A ‘guide on the side’?”

February 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 5
For Each to Excel Pages 22-26

Preparing Students to Learn Without Us

Will Richardson

By pairing personalized learning and technology, a teacher can help students learn what they need to learn through the topics that interest them most.

Here’s what I wonder: Can my 12-year-old son Tucker, a kid who lives for anything having to do with basketball, learn just about every math concept he needs to be successful in life in the context of playing the game he loves?

I posed that question on my blog a few months ago, and the post elicited more than 60 responses from readers who connected basketball to the study of bivariate data, complex equations, statistical analysis, slope, variables, predicting outcomes, probability, geometric shapes, mean, median, mode, averages, arc, force, angles, percentages, fractions, linear inequalities, volume, speed, mass, acceleration, and dozens of other concepts that are no doubt part of Tucker’s K–12 math curriculum (Richardson, 2010). And when I showed him some of the great ideas that teachers had left on my blog, he lit up. “Really?” he asked. “I could do that?”

Yes, I think he could. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t need…

 

 

 

 

PLUS: An article Richardson references that he himself wrote in 2009:

Personalized Online Learning

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