Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Need for Change

Stop and read that quote again. Now think about today’s schools and classrooms and ask yourself this critical question:

Do our current school systems adequately prepare students for their future reality?

A Problem with Our Current Schools

Any teacher, parent, or student can give you a list of problems in our schools today. Some of the common issues in today’s schools involve student engagement, rigor of academic standards, high-stake testing, and closing achievement gaps.

Perhaps an underlying issue is the larger topic of the way in which we structure our school systems. Consider the current traditional school model. Students are divided by age into classrooms where education is standardized in order to efficiently educate many students.

Despite the benefit of efficiency in this standardized model, today’s educators have recognized a significant flaw in this system- our students aren’t standard. One size does not fit all. In reality, our students have a major need for differentiation. We all know that just because two students are the same age doesn’t mean they have the same educational needs. In fact, a classroom with 25 students has 25 unique learners, each with their own interests, strengths, and needs.

Another major difference between the our school structure and student learning involves the idea of knowledge. Jane GIlbert explains the difference in our understanding of knowledge in her article Catching the Knowledge Wave. Knowledge used to require knowing facts and processes. As our nation continues to progress, knowledge will be measured and used in different ways. It will be less important for tomorrow’s graduates to be able to recite basic information, and more important to think critically, problem solve, and create knowledge.

Did you know that America has had this same educational model since the industrial age? The comparison has even been made that today’s schools are just like industrial factories producing standard students. Times have changed, so why haven’t our school systems?  Today’s schools should be less about students receiving knowledge from their teachers and more about experiencing learning in ways that foster independent thinking and problem solving.

Today’s graduates will enter a global economy defined by its innovation. As Richard Riley predicted, we may not know what jobs we are preparing our students for, and we may not know what problems we are preparing them to solve, but we do know the types of skills they will need. Creativity along with an ability to easily locate and assess relevant information are essential skills.  21st century citizens must be able to collaborate flexibly, think critically, problem solve, and apply technology effectively and ethically.  A different, non-traditional approach to learning is required in order for students to have rich opportunities to develop these skills.

A Solution is Waiting

Could blended learning be that non-traditional approach to address these issues? It could- if it’s implemented to do so.  Blended learning can essentially go beyond differentiation to personalization. It has the potential to allow classrooms and schools to be both efficient and personalized for students. It can change the way in which we structure schools, allowing for customization, meeting each student exactly where they are and helping them move forward.

At the same time, blended learning can also be used to support the current industrial model of schooling. The overall structure of school may not change, but technology can be used to implement blended learning to improve learning.

I teach in a traditional school. My classroom usually consists of both general education and special education students. I see a definite need to personalize education for my students. Meeting their individual needs is difficult to accomplish, at best. I don’t have the ability to change the structure of my school, but there is something I can do in my own classroom.  

I don’t think blended learning is a fad. It’s not another initiative that will come and go. When I think about the future of education, I don’t predict that we will use technology less than we are now. I think the key will be using technology in smart ways. I see blended learning as a great solution for my class in order to better address the needs of my students, promote 21st century skills, and prepare my students for their futures.

If you’d like to hear more on this topic, watch this 5 minute interview with Michael B. Horn: Ending the Classroom Factory Model: How Technology Will Personalize Education

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