Tonight I had the privilege of participating in the Ontario Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) webinar hosted by Will Richardson and my mind is still buzzing with excitement! Will discussed “Seven Shifts” in education right now and even though I found all seven shifts to be engaging and thought-provoking, the one that resonated with me the most was moving from “Standards Based Learning to Passion Based Learning.”

I’m a relatively new teacher, but I find there are times when already I feel slightly jaded about what we are doing in our classrooms. I have been really trying to think about education from the perspective of my students and what I keep coming back to is that I don’t feel we are doing enough to prepare them for their futures. The 21st century skills that the minority of us are encouraging like collaborating and synthesizing are still being overshadowed by the focus on rote memorization and the regurgitation of information. I was chatting this weekend with my best friend who is an occupational therapist and she told me that she feels the most important concepts we can be teaching our students are to be good collaborators, critical thinkers and how to FIND good information. She also made a really interesting point, though, about our stronger students and she suggested that we still need to be preparing our students for college and university as in her experience in undergraduate work at university, it still seems to be rote memorization.

Which leads me to another line of thinking in this reflection. How do we encourage the colleges and universities to adopt this shift in thinking? For my students who are planning on attending university, I often find myself giving them coping and studying strategies so that they can be prepared for the onslaught of information. In all seriousness though, what’s the point of having students go to university to study really hard then forget almost all the content because they never truly did commit it to their long term memories? I think back to my undergraduate days and I virtually remember nothing except how stressed I was at exam time. How does that prepare students for real life? I can really only remember one professor clearly and that’s because he challenged my ideas and opinions and forced me to think outside the box. What does that say about my university experience that if in five years of higher level education I can only remember one professor who made an impact on me? It makes me wonder then if we are starting to think this way in elementary and high schools, how do we convince our post secondary compatriots that this kind of thinking is more beneficial than writing an expository essay about 17th century English literature or taking a multiple choice exam about psychology theories?

My other question on the focus of passion based learning is how do we convince everyone else that encouraging the pursuit of passion is relevant and acceptable for our curriculum? I know there are many teachers who would say that students need to be learning “certain” content and that passions like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and farming have no place in an English classroom. In fact, I had that fight in my English class in teacher’s college. I had an argument with another girl over her view that all students need to read Shakespeare and “good” literature and that texts like magazine articles and “grocery store novels” are not acceptable reading material for class. One of my questions back to her was how can we judge what others want to read? Who decides what is “good” literature? I actually thought a lot of the “good” literature I read in university was crap and can’t fathom trying to engage some of my students in those texts when I, an English major, thought they were terrible. My other question for her was how can we paint all our students with the same brush and teach everyone the exact same content? Where does differentiated learning fit in her equation? I asked her how she was going to engage her students who had difficulty with reading comprehension and understanding complex writing and her response was, “they will learn it because I will teach it.” I often think about her and wonder if she’s changed any of her views on education after being in a real classroom or if she’s still up on her soap box…

So ultimately my question is, how do YOU think we facilitate this change? I would love any feedback, comments or suggestions on this conundrum.


13 thoughts on “A Shift in Thinking

  1. You go girl! Man, if I had a dime for every time I heard a version of “they will learn it because I will teach it”. Well I won’t be rich, but I’d have a large cuppa Starbuck finest for sure. I’m not sure what the answer is, but having spent some time with higher ed folks this past weekend, I can say that some, but not all, are starting see value in changing the business as usual routine.

  2. Man do we have some work to do! I am a member of COCA (Central Ontario Computer Association) with several other IT Curriculum Support Staff from various Boards. One of the members teaches at a Teachers’ College. He has stated that he is continually amazed that these aspiring teachers don’t have a grasp of 21st Century technology options and some are actually quite afraid of it. We have a lot of minds to shift. But I’m pretty confident our powerful GLN can keep chipping away at them:)
    Great post Jamie!

  3. Nice post Jamie. I noted your reference to the transition to post secondary institutions. My daughter is in first year university this year, and from what I see, they do not seem to be as far along the process, collaboration and higher order thinking skills continuum as K12 is. She is experiencing a lot of T/F and multiple choice/guess testing that is totally content based. As K12 shifts the thinking and approach, I hope post secondary gets there in a timely way too!!!

    ~ Mark

  4. Your blogs are great, J!! Your question resonates with me: how can we paint all our students with the same brush and teach everyone the exact same content? We know that our students learn in a multitude of ways. We also know that their interests and strengths are diverse. In terms of Differentiating Instruction, at least, we need to consider the technological learning and opportunities our students need to succeed. I am using this argument in my conversations. I can’t say I am starting a revolution but if I can challenge a couple of the people I talk to / work with to reconsider their use of technology, it will have been worth the looks of disbelief.

    As an aside, you are quite inspiring, J, you are doing a great job of integrating and using technology. I bet you are inspiring many, like me! Thanks

  5. The last part of your post is an issue I see every day as a curriculum consultant. It is frustrating and I have some pretty strong opinions about this topic . . . so brace yourself 🙂

    The only way to change the world is to change ourselves. We can’t really make anyone else change. I heard this last week and I see it as the only truth that will move us forward in teaching. We have a language of blame, not one of growth. We blame the teachers who taught students before; we blame parents; we blame the kids themselves. We rarely say, “I think I missed a step when I was scaffolding this lesson and that is why the kids don’t get it.” We rarely say, “I didn’t gradually release students into this new learning.”

    When we teach, we are rock stars in our own minds. We love our lessons because we created them and they interest us. The teacher you speak about probably feels this way too. But, if the students don’t love our lessons, they aren’t as awesome as we think or we have missed a step. If the students don’t learn, we didn’t teach the skills and material very well. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

    The first thing that needs to change is the way we talk and what we talk about as professionals. Then we will find that we are talking about next steps instead of deficits in learning. We will talk about what kids learned instead of what we taught. What kids find interesting instead of what we think they should find interesting. It seems like a small thing, but listen carefully to the way we talk as teachers when you are at work tomorrow. . . What is the saying about our thoughts becoming our words and our words becoming our actions? We are all guilty. And I start by pointing my finger at myself.

  6. Jamie, I enjoyed reading your reflection.

    I too think of education from the perspective of my students. There is no doubt that they are different kind of learner that the previous generations. They were born into a digital world and are used to being immersed in a much more variety of media that most of the educators that they are confronted with each day.
    I do not believe that it is the digital tools that will provide these students with success. It is the method of teaching. Currently, our Ministry has mandated a Comprehensive Literacy approach where specific methods of teaching are required which includes scripted components of shared, modeled and guided reading lessons. This approach, while useful to many students, does not seem to be engaging to the 1/3 of the students that are are disengaged. Like you, after attending sessions facilitate by advocates of 21st Century learning such as Dr. Ian Jukes, Will Richardson, and Dr. Alec Couros , I am again reminded that students today require more variety, a quicker pace and a more collaborative approach to learning. The Web 2.0 allows current content, collaboration, instant publishing, sharing, discussions, problem solving. These are literacy that are not addressed in the Comprehensive Literacy Model. I would like to see change in how we teach, and particularly in how we are teaching teachers. Thanks for such an inspiring post.

  7. I found the comment from your occupational therapist very interesting. In my experience, most of my learning was not based on rote memorization. My computer science degree had vast amounts of synthesizing, collaborating, comparing, and yes a bit of memorization. But memorization is obviously necessary for learning – the point is that memorization occurs better (that is to say memory recall is improved) when a student understands the material. Perhaps my experience is more unique than I thought? CS is inherently largely based on creation and production as a means to learning. I suppose this may not happen in other disciplines, where facts take precedence.

    I personally feel Universities in particular do not need to change their practices – not radically anyways. University was never intended to be a place to be spoon fed information. It is a place to learn and grow, to explore knowledge and to challenge the status quo. High school is when we prepare these students to be able to go out and learn for themselves. University is when a student by and large is guided to areas to learn – but not be coddled. Is giving students in University large amounts of reading and long lectures the best way for all students to learn? Obviously not. But we are talking about the top academic minds we have – that’s why we have admissions. So we are talking about students that should be able to “figure out” what steps they need to take on their own to learn the material. If a student never figures out that just reading their notes over and over is a poor way to learn something, then perhaps they should not be there.

  8. We all agree that it is not about the technology, it`s the invitation to explore new methods, new relationships – to create a learning community within the class. Once we are freed from the physical and emotional bounds of `sit down and learn’ school experience, there is the risk that they run amock, wouldn’t you.

    For lack of more humanistic methods that acknowledge motivation and actualization(Maslov) the measurement pendulum had swung to extremes leaving many students to train to gear down – to accept boredom, disillusionment, and isolation as the norm. Inclusive education? Responsive and interactive approaches offer calculated heuristic relief. Validation of student curiosity and the nurturing of a culture of empathy is the starting block. I`m reminded of the Jim Carey movie YES MAN.

    Away from the barrage of pedantic prescriptions – towards competence and self-respect, belonging, transparency and vulnerability.


  9. Jamie, excellent blog! I can relate to my high school teachers in the same fashion as you. I only remember the ones who connected with me on a personal level as a learner – not the ones who taught me specific content. I remember the math teacher who stayed after class to make sure he saw the “lightbulb” click on in my learning and kept asking me questions until I got it. I remember the English teacher who told me I could “abandon” a book if I didn’t like it and helped me find a better book suited for me. And I remember my chemistry teacher who constantly questioned HIMSELF (in front of us) as he solved problems on the board – and modelled the “mucking about” to us. Your comment about the colleague in teachers college and the challenge you faced there resonates with me too. Yikes! How can we foster the love of reading in our students if we pass judgement on what they feel is “a good read”? Is it not more important to have our students convince US (and others) that what they’re reading is good/not so good based on proving and supporting their thinking with specific details? I was NEVER engaged in the books that my teachers chose for me. The whole class novels were absolutely agonizing for me. And I think, as a result of that challenge in my English classes, I refused to teach in that way. I want my kids to love reading. I want my students to remember me for the kind of teacher I am and the lessons I taught, in life, through engaging them. I really appreciated Kim McGill’s response to your blog too. I find that the best connections I make with teachers, as a consultant, is when I share my struggles and mistakes I made as a teacher in the classroom. They learn that it’s ok to muck about together, make mistakes and learn from them to move on to better learning. I remember hearing at a conference once and it has always stuck with me – we need to constantly try to turn the “yeah but’s” into problems we can try to solve together. Not always easy most days but I’m determined! Thanks for the inspiring thoughts!

  10. After reading your post, and being part of the same session, I also was most moved by the shift to passion based learning. There is an expectation in the English classroom to teach certain things. Thou shall have a core novel; thou shall have a Shakespeare play. You woul think that no other drama has been created. 99% of the students I teach will not go on to take any English university courses so what are we preparing them for?

    Why do we need a core novel?

    My least favourite argument for why things are just fine as they are is because we are preparing them for university. If that is the only solid argument to keep the status quo, then there is a desperate need for change.

    This was a great post. Viva la revolucion.

  11. The mere fact that you are pondering these issues is awesome! Next steps get involved in literacy, achievement, student success and ICT committees. Learn more about the issues and deliver PDs on equitable assessment policies, ICT integration and DI for student success. Get to know who the teacher “superstars” in your school, your family of schools and within your board. Surround yourself with these leaders and grow.

    Good Luck!

    Stephen M

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