As I prepare for the 2011 NAIS Annual Conference next week, I found myself going over past blog posts, reflections, papers and other artifacts from my journey as an educator. These artifacts of understanding have captured my evolving practice as an educator and document my journey from Teacher to Master Learner. One of the items I reviewed was my statement of educational philosophy as posted on my portfolio. This short piece captures my belief that our students need Master Learners more than they need Master Teachers.
This year, I am presenting with Larry Kahn and Susan Davis on Friday from 11:30 to 12:30 regarding the use of personal learning networks for personal professional growth and faculty transformation. As part of this process, I decided to use this piece as part of my reflection leading up to this session. Our session it titled Disrupt the Old Discourse: Leveraging a Faculty’s Personal Learning Communities. This philosophical statement serves as a reminder and challenge to me to constantly step outside my comfort zone and explore learning in new and dynamic ways and to make my learning process visible to those who might also pick up the challenge. So, as you prepare to pack your bags for National Harbor and the NAIS Annual Conference next week, it is my hope you will take a moment to read this short passage then reflect on its message and take action by writing your own philosophy on teaching and learning. As always, I welcome comments on my blog and cherish your thoughts and reflections.
Session Reflection: The Teacher as a Master Learner
My career has been a personal journey taking me from a student in traditional classrooms to becoming a teacher in traditional classrooms to a social constructivist as a master learner. This journey was not easy or immediate. This transition has involved a multitude of distribute individuals who may or may not know me or that they have helped to shape my current view of teaching and learning. One important aspect of this transformation is my personal learning network which is an ill-defined collection of connections distributed around the globe. It is this informal social space that plays a huge roll in my practice today, not as a teacher but as a master learner. It is for this reason that I would like to share my philosophy on education as I have posted in other locations. It is this philosophy that drives the way I conduct myself in the classroom both as teacher and learner.
My Educational Philosophy
As I reflect on my twenty plus years as an educator, I am struck by many thoughts, many changes. Over time, the practice of teaching and learning has evolved into an art that requires the practitioner to be as much student as teacher. Some of these evolutionary changes include: global and societal changes, shifts in ways of knowing and what is worth knowing, evolving student cognition, improved knowledge about how the brain learns, technology and access to dynamic information, the blurring of traditional disciplinary boundaries leading to greater interdisciplinary studies, and a better understanding of pedagogical practices leading to understanding. These and other changes have required the effective educator to constantly reinvent themselves. Additionally, an understanding of all these forces is important to understanding the development of curriculum that prepares students for a dynamic world. That is to say, our students need to be prepared to possibly work jobs that do not exist today, solve problems that do not fit traditional problem solving models and acquire knowledge from distributed sources where that knowledge changes almost as fast as they learn.
Learning is a social construct where the learner is presented with opportunities to construct knowledge and meaning through contextualized experiences that help provide relevancy. This often takes the form of problem based learning or PBL where students work to solve ill-defined problems while connecting new information with that found in their existing schema. The result is contextualized learning which facilitates transferability and utility in novel situations. This is markedly different than educational requirements under which most institutions where originally founded.
Therefore, I believe there is a difference between learning and understanding. I can “teach” a parrot to speak but I would challenge anyone to have a conversation with him. This is the problem with approaching education from a “teaching” perspective, from a perspective of “coverage”.
Research has shown time and again, that knowledge is not “handed out” like a stack of papers in class. Students must struggle with a subject within what Vygotsky refers to as The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) working to construct knowledge and understanding. They must connect pillars of knowledge within their own experience as well as the collective experience of the class where the teacher models master learning not master teaching.
For years, the model has been to take the spectrum of students and remove the extremes on each end. The gifted students enter programs where they can excel in what they do. The students that are identified as learning different are then grouped together and taught with different methodologies. So what about the group in the middle? They fit nicely in the factory model that has existed since the 1800’s. Fill up the room, hand out the knowledge, test them for learning then send them on their way. However, this does not lead to the depth of understanding or the skills needed to succeed in today’s world where problems are transient, global and the solutions are often discovered through distributed cognition.
Students today should be encouraged to foster their own learning and curiosity, draw on the collective expertise of the community of learners and construct their own knowledge and understanding with the guidance of a more expert learner- the teacher. In this way, students will develop a collective understanding while all learning something different.
My role as an educator is to get students to think-stimulate them to wonder about the world around them and encourage them to look deeper than the first thing they see. I can best do this by modeling master learning. The more students understand about how they learn, the more likely they will become lifelong learners. I do this by becoming a learner in the class with them. We are on a journey through the unknown and we construct the knowledge as we go. I do not believe in disconnected facts but rather rich contextual connections. Islands of knowledge have little purpose. Understanding and powerful ideas come from the construction of knowledge and the associated connections. Students must experience authentic learning that is relevant and engaging- learning with a purpose.
If you want to be a master carpenter, you work with a master carpenter. If you want to be a master jeweler, you work with a master jeweler. Who should you work with if you want to be a master learner? I believe that the most effective way to teach is to model master learning- a life time of joy and wonder, a lifetime of learning.