Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are Your Students Learning Ready?

By Peter DeWitt — March 03, 2013 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

At this point, if you do not see the relevance in technology, you’re holding your students back.

College and career ready is a very common theme these days. As with any catch-phrase, many educators are most likely sick of hearing it. The longer you stay in any profession the more at risk you are of hearing new phrases year after year, which may just have the same definitions as the old phrase. They’re just new words.

Unfortunately, too many educators have that attitude that what is old is new again. And too many feel that way about technology. They feel it is a passing fad that has no place in schools. Other educators fall in the middle. They see it as a new tool to use at centers. Something shiny that we can all turn on. After all, technology has impressive graphics, surround sound and most students find it fun. The problem with that line of thinking is that technology is so much more than that.

At this point, if you do not see the relevance in technology, you’re holding your students back. It’s not that technology can replace good teaching; it just means that it needs to be part of the culture of good teaching and if it’s lacking in your classroom, you’re making a mistake.

We get it. Technology makes teachers uncomfortable. The internet can go down at any time and that is worrisome. What if your lesson plans get lost? What if you’re being observed and it goes down? It’s easier to leave technology out of the classroom culture because there are too many technical issues that can happen.

Is that how they feel about a phone?
Or cable television?
What about the radio?

All of those things can go down....and yet we still use them.

Putting Students First...Putting students first means that educators have to understand the way our present students think. Not the version of what educators think students should be like, which is most likely the same version teachers had in the 50’s. Our students are connected, and that has to be a part of our daily instruction.

In Students First, Not Stuff (Educational Leadership, p.10), Will Richardson says, “Welcome to what portends to be the messiest, most upheaval-filled 10 years in education that any of us has ever seen. Resistance, as they say, is futile.

If you ever sit at a party or outside having drinks with friends, conversations usually turn to something from the past. Perhaps it’s an old television show, or a movie that you cannot remember. Instantly, someone sitting around the table pulls out their Smartphone to look up the name of the movie or the title of a song. Regardless of how you feel about technology, it envelopes are lives and it is a valuable resource.

Our students have never known anything but our present world. For them, they use technology to play a game, keep in touch with a friend every thirty seconds, or look up information. They wake up ready to learn; it’s just that they have to put off some of what they want to learn in order to sit in a classroom to hear what their teacher wants them to learn. At some point, educators have to try to meet students in the middle. Educators must find a happy medium.

To ignore our technological world means we want students to step back in time and turn off the way they learn. That’s fine if it’s some type of experiment to get them to understand what it was like to live decades ago but it shouldn’t have a consistent place in their daily lives as learners.

Learning Ready?
Richardson goes on to say, “Instead of helping our students become “college ready,” we might be better off making them “learning ready,” prepared for any opportunity that might present itself down the road. That’s an ecological shift in thinking.”

Richardson has a good point. Quite honestly, college and career ready sort of makes the focus on secondary learning. Preparing students to be learning ready, not only starts at a young age and can happen before they enter elementary school, it also helps to further the idea that students already come to us learning ready. Sometimes it’s our curriculum or focus on high stakes assessments that kills their love for learning.

It sounds overly dramatic to say “kills their love of learning” but it’s true. Every single student loves to learn something. Whether it’s about trucks, sports, computer games, math or science. It’s when students are forced to sit back and do worksheet after worksheet over and over again that we start to chip away at their love of learning. It’s when they don’t see the relevancy in their work that they begin to fade away.

How do we encourage students to be learning ready?
Listen to them - it sounds easy and it should be. However, sometimes we get so caught up in what needs to be done, that we forget those things are being done to our students
Encourage Risk-taking - Encourage students to offer ideas. If they want to add something to a conversation, educators should listen and then encourage them to further their research about it.
Common Core - The Common Core is supposed to be the foundation of what students learn, not an excuse to make sure they don’t learn anything else. Build on that foundation by listening to student input.
One right answer - Some questions have one right answer, but many others have different answers which offer different pathways to learning.
Inquiry-based learning - Offer a question and allow students multiple ways to find the answer. The technology component to this is huge because it will offer resources to students that the school might not hold within its walls.
Classroom culture - Within the first minute of walking into a classroom, you can feel whether it’s one that is student-centered or one that is teacher directed. The culture of a good classroom is one where students have expectations but also freedom. They feel as though they can take risks and are not afraid of having a wrong answer. There is no glass ceiling to learning.

In the End
Every Saturday morning many educators log into their Twitter accounts and are learning ready. They dive into conversations on #satchat, and during the week they find other chats on the social media giant like #edchat, #ptchat or #nyedchat. Why do they do this? They do it because they find it relevant. No one is choosing their learning for them. Someone may choose the topic, but it’s the way the individual contributors think that stretches the conversation. Their collective answers enrich the topic.

Many educators walk into school every day ready to provide students with learning. They put worksheets up on their Smartboard and call it infusing technology into their instruction. Other more creative and engaging teachers, walk into school ready to facilitate their students’ learning. They offer a topic and students find the answers on their own. As those students search for answers, the teachers help guide them through or encourage them if they take a detour as they find something else that is interesting. They are not afraid of letting students explore on the web, and they are certainly not afraid of the ideas that their students come up with on their own.

Learn with Peter on Twitter

Richardson, Will (2013). Students First, No Stuff. Educational Leadership. ASCD. March, 2013. Vol. 70. No. 6. Alexandria, VA.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.