Boston, MA – Sept. 13, 2016— On August 25, a global audience tuned in to a live webinar sponsored by itslearning (www.itslearning.net) and presented by world-renowned education leader Alan November. Titled “Strategies for Creating Learner-Centered Environments and Practices” the one-hour webinar focused on strategies for supporting learner agency, creating environments where students feel safe to take risks and engage in valuable peer learning opportunities, and helping students develop critical learning skills to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
November referred to Singapore’s “Teach less, learn more” mantra as an example of the idea that students, rather than teachers, should be the ones working hardest in the classroom. “It doesn’t mean that teachers are less important, I should point out,” he said. “It’s not just a question of shifting work, it’s a question of really designing assignments and facilitating, that I think is a very high-level teacher skill.”
“I think that student voice is important, that teachers can learn more about their students,” November continued. He advised teachers to have specific goals for listening to student voice, for example, understanding any misconceptions those students may have and how to correct those misconceptions.
Another reason November mentioned for encouraging student voice is that students often can explain things in ways that a new learner can understand while educators’ expertise may cause them to speak at a level to which novices cannot relate. He suggested that students be encouraged to create tutorials for their peers as well as design problems for their peers or their teachers to solve. He cited a Texan geometry teacher named Jessica Caviness who sent out a photo of a soda cup and challenged her students to design a geometry problem around the image as a no-credit, out-of-classroom activity.
One of Caviness’students designed a problem that required not just an understanding of geometry but also of buoyancy and ice displacement. “There’s no way you would cover that in the curriculum, there’s too much to do,” November commented. “But as a stimulus to get kids to think, it really works. And in a platform like itslearning, where you can post these kinds of problems that come from students, it’s very motivating for other students. And other kids want to design problems.” He mentioned that the class’s test scores went up and that Caviness was named Texas Teacher of the Year in 2015.
November acknowledged that some attendees might be worried about being embarrassed by student-designed problems that are beyond their expertise. He pointed out that struggling students often consider themselves “bad” students because they never had the opportunity to watch their teacher learn. He advised teachers to admit when they don’t know something and then show how they learn so that struggling students can realize that their struggles don’t make them a failure.
Another use of itslearning that November recommended was having students use the embedded tools to document their learning. “I am convinced as I watch kids document their learning, take notes, that there’s this wide range of how students document their own learning, and that’s an enormous opportunity to do this cooperatively,” he said in reference to itslearning’s student-to-student collaboration tools such as ePortfolios, blogs, discussion boards, surveys, bulletin comments and peer assessments.
Additionally, November advocated a student legacy approach where, instead of just doing work for a grade, students work for a greater good. He gave several examples of connecting curriculums to real-world problems, including one of students building a robot to help out NASA. The agency uses weather balloons to gather data on whether a planned rocket launch will be safe from lightning strikes. However, if bad weather occurred when personnel should have been outside sending up the balloon, that task and the subsequent rocket launch had to be scrubbed because of the danger the conditions posed to people. So, students at a nearby school built a robot to replace the workers who would have had to release the balloon.
“Call the local police department, call the local fire department,” November advised. “We have all these agencies in town, everywhere in America, that are probably working on real problems.” He cited Loudoun County Public Schools where Superintendent Eric Williams has committed the district to having every student create a legacy piece during the school year.
November also spoke about the changes teachers need to make in order to adopt these strategies such as reducing or eliminating lectures and other familiar tasks. In fact, he thought teachers’ high level of skill and comfort with those tasks may be “the single biggest barrier” to their using technology effectively.“We’re trying to hang on to teacher behaviors, and we haven’t gone through this shift of control yet where students are being self-directed and collaborative,” he said.
The “Strategies for Creating Learner-Centered Environments and Practices” webinar is available for viewing at no cost at https://vimeo.com/180211474. For more information about itslearning visit http://www.itslearning.net.
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