Sometimes, the simplest questions are the ones that are the most important. One such question that seems to be circling around the educational community right now and holds such critical ramifications in the way that we approach it: what does 21st century teaching and learning look like?
My gut feeling (and fear) is that teachers and leaders may respond that 21st century teaching and learning occurs when there is technology being used. And while technology may be key component of a 21st century classroom, it’s not the technology itself. Rather, it’s how that technology is being used. My personal definition of 21st century teaching and learning is that it’s a cyclical process that dynamically evolves between the teacher and the learner. And out of that whole definition, I think the keyword here is dynamic. It is my sincere hope that we as teachers and learners are constantly being dynamic is our practice and our craft.
Being dynamic is hard work. You can’t sit back and use the same lesson plan from last year without any changes and be dynamic. Nor can you use a textbook and move through it with your students and expect to be a dynamic, engaging teacher. Being dynamic means that you shift and change over time. It means that as your students evolve, so do you and so does your teaching. Being dynamic is a way of being as a teacher, leader and student, not just a single lesson or a moment in the classroom.
What’s scary about the “typical” idea of the 21st century classroom is that the technology automatically makes the classroom dynamic. This is just not true. Having the technology in the room is simply a tool that can help to facilitate a dynamic engagement between teachers and learners (both of which may be students). How teachers and learners use that technology has the potential to shift conversations, assessments, and even who is teaching and who is learning. But simply having tablets or BYOD or laptops in the classroom will not do that for you. Those are static items that require dynamic users to realize the full potential of their use with students.
So what are some ways to ensure that you’re being dynamic as a resource and facilitator of learning for your students? I suggest starting with these three “accomplish list” items (sounds better than to-do list, right?):
1. Be comfortable with shift. Fundamentally, teaching has changed. No longer are we going to impact student achievement by standing in front of a classroom and lecturing or by reading from the textbook. Instead, we must provide our students with some autonomy and facilitate meaningful, rich connections. When we do this, shifts occur in who is teaching and learning and these shifts may happen multiple times. We must understand and accept that this will happen and be comfortable with letting go of some control.
2. Bring STEAM into the conversation. While I hope that in the next 3-5 years all students will be able to use a device for their learning (either their own or provided by the school), the only way that technology will move from being static to dynamic in the classroom is through art. By designing, creating, and critiquing using technology, our students’ work naturally evolves and changes in ways that are not possible by siloing technology and art. Lets embrace and leverage these critical pieces together to bring concepts to life for students.
3. Keep standards at the heart of what you do. The process of teaching those standards can and should change depending on the unique students you have in your classroom. A good teacher can differentiate their lesson processes to meet the needs of their students. Great teachers do this while holding true to the standards of the lesson itself. Always remember that while the process may shift, the standards are rock solid. This will ensure integrity of your lesson no matter what changes occur.