Disrupting Class

Just finished reading Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the… by Clayton M. Christensen. It is an interesting read about school and educational reform that clearly highlights the problems that we now face. The message in a nut-shell is that we need to move to a more customized, personalized education system that may look nothing like the 19th and 20th century industrial model that we currently possess. Christensen argues that the heart of the problem lies in standardization – the polar opposite of personalization. (As I was finishing this book it was interesting to see current media coverage about the possible NAPLAN boycott in 2010.)

A more personalized educational system will require a fundamental, architectural shift that will involve combining subjects, reordering who does what and even having flexible school hours.

He states, “If we acknowledge that all children learn differently, then the way schooling is currently arranged – in a monolithic batch mode system where all students are taught the same things on the same day in the same way – won’t ever allow us to educate children in customised ways. We need a modular system.”

I agree. Open content or modular learning will free the teacher from being a major developer of resources (reinventing the wheel – teacher centred) to devoting more time to being a supporter of the learning. (learner-centred) This is the type of learning that we need more of. Gone are the days where the teacher can stand up the front and lecture to students who are content to be passive recipients of information. Technology will be the great enabler and while access to technology is increasing in schools, “…schools use computers as a tool and a topic, not as a primary instructional mechanism that helps students learn in ways that are customized to their type of intelligence.” We need to make the shift but it will require disruptive innovation.

Christensen shares – “At every crossway on the road that leads to the future each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.”

I’m often asked how the the inspiration I find through my reading plays out in my day to day work with kids. What has changed? What do you do?

Its interesting to reflect on the transformations within my own classes….

I now very rarely lecture to students and only spend a very small percentage of classtime at the front of the room. I take time to listen to all students and actively encourage discussion and exploration around current and real-world events and developments. Students are inquisitive by nature and yet all to often in education teachers squash this because they say they don’t have time, use the crowded curriculum as an excuse, or sometimes because the teachers themselves don’t know the answer to the question that is posed. The most powerful thing a teacher can do is to become a learner. Be part of the process. Encourage the deep questions and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know all the answers. But follow this up with “That’s a great question which I don’t really have an answer to. Lets hypothesize and then find an answer together.”

If you came into my class you would find students all around the room – they may be up at the whiteboard trying to work out a problem or even showing one of their peers how to solve a particular question. You would find students working in small study groups, using appropriate technologies depending on the circumstance and genuinely engaged because they are learning. There is a lot of inquiry-driven learning that is taking place and sometimes it goes off on a tangent that may be outside the scope of the curriculum. That is a good thing. It is personalized in the sense that students are at different stages in their learning.

To teach this way you have to have a feeling of what it is that interests, challenges and engages students. Talk to them. Find out their likes and dislikes. Take risks and challenge the old assumptions. If I had to offer words of advice in a world of increasingly ubiquitous access to technology it would be “See the opportunities rather than the obstacles.”

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