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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Response: What Teaching in the Year 2047 Might Look Like

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 11, 2017 22 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

How will teaching and schools look different twenty-or-thirty years from now? Or will they?

Looking into our crystal balls and predicting the future can be a risky business. However, we probably want to keep this quote in mind attributed to poet Lucille Clifton:

“We cannot create what we can’t imagine.”

So, in that spirit, this week we’ll consider this question...

Today, Diana Laufenberg, Matt Renwick, Dr. Nancy Sulla, Barnett Berry, PJ Caposey and Ken Halla share their predictions. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Diana, Nancy, and Matt on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

I have a decidedly mixed track-record when it comes to making education-related predictions (see the past six years of annual predictions I make over at The Washington Post). However, I would still like to share five predictions and/or questions/concerns/hopes about the future:

* A fairly safe prediction, I think, is that electronic versions of textbooks will eliminate the use of most hard copy textbooks in U.S. schools thirty years from now. The price of laptops, and their sturdiness, will reach the point that this switch can be feasible for most school districts.

* Though a Star Trek-like holodeck is still far in the future, advancements in virtual reality technology will create exceptional learning opportunities, especially in science and the social sciences.

* I wonder how the rapid improvements in real-time translation systems are going to affect student desire to learn a new language and our society’s priority for them to do so. I’m concerned that the “transactional” ability of tech to communicate words might overwhelm the potentially “transformational” understanding of a culture that can come with learning a new language.

* The battle against school privatization is on, and I’m hopeful that advocates of strong public schools will win over the next twenty-or-thirty years. Obviously, things don’t look so great right now.

* I believe that educators will make slow (too slow) - but steady - gains in fighting for equity and racial justice within our educational institutions, including increasing the numbers of teachers of color, promoting restorative practices, and boosting the use of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Now, to the predictions from today’s guests:

Response From Diana Laufenberg

For 16 years, Diana Laufenberg taught 7-12 grade students Social Studies in Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Most recently, Diana Laufenberg partnered with Chris Lehmann to start Inquiry Schools, a new non-profit working to create and support student centered learning environments that are inquiry driven, project based and utilize modern technology. She currently serves as the Executive Director and Lead Teacher for Inquiry Schools:

Schools of the FUTURE! Sounds so exciting... right? The future path is looking relatively uncertain. However with regard to the question - things I am certain will abide - children will continue to learn; adults will continue to try and guide that practice. Something of which I am moderately certain - Americans will continue to expect school to function as the safe place where their young people spend a considerable amount of their childhood. Everything after that is wild conjecture. And while that can be fun at times, I posit a series of questions (not comprehensive) that I think American society is going to have to ask and answer, which will guide how teaching and schools look in 2036 or 2046 - you know, when I’m in my 60s.

  1. How will we ensure more equitable conditions for learning?

  2. How will we confront the resegregation of schools?

  3. How committed are we to fully addressing the issues of poverty and the conditions that cause it to sustain?

  4. When are we going to demand that children be honored as humans at school with the full complement of healthy food, non-policed hallways and recess?

  5. What do we value most in our citizenry and how can schools support those values?

  6. What can be done to make schools more agile, flexible and responsive to changing conditions?

  7. How will teacher prep programs become more effective, relevant and meaningful?

  8. Will we have the intestinal fortitude to actually and fundamentally shift schools as they are one of the most traditional part of American society? And shift to what?

  9. How might we tackle the issues surrounding assessment in more humane, nuanced and meaningful ways?

  10. When will we stop putting ‘e’, ‘digital’ and ‘mobile’ in front of everything and just call it learning?

The answers to these questions will determine the path - I’m not sure we have the stomach to answer some of these questions but I am sure that is not a good thing.

Response From Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an elementary school principal in Mineral Point, Wisconsin and author of multiple books, including 5 Myths About Classroom Technology: How do we integrate digital tools to truly enhance learning? (ASCD, 2015). Learn more about Matt on his website, mattrenwick.com, and by following him on Twitter @ReadByExample:

When public education began, some students would walk miles each day to attend their local school. There were no other opportunities to get an education, so families would go to great means to access this learning experience. Today, this is clearly not the case. Anyone can get an education from a variety of locations: Virtually, physically, or a blend of digital and brick-and-mortar. Some groups and communities are even creating their own schools that have no curriculum, called “unschooling”, that offers students an experiential education driven largely by the learner. There so many choices today that our elders could not have imagined. This increased level of choice has also created an opening in which private corporations and individuals are also becoming involved in the future of education. Too often it is more about the money than the kids.

With all of this choice, what will schools look like in 25 years? I am not a futurist, but I can make a few educated guesses. First, choice in education will continue to proliferate. More opportunities will present themselves, cropping up in further reaching places. The main factor in this is the continuous expansion of technology. Rural areas and poorer neighborhoods supported by demand and public services will reap the largest benefits from this access. When we can tap into online tutorials, teleconferencing, and tools that utilize social media as a format for communicating, there is really nothing barring a student from learning anything of desire or need.

Second, as society becomes more mobile every day, school funding formulas will change to reflect this reality. Specifically, property taxes will no longer be the basis for determining how districts are funded. There are better plans out there, such as Wisconsin’s Fair Funding for Our Future that use different data points to more accurately determine how a district is funded, such as student poverty rates.

Third, compulsory education will end, or at least be significantly modified. This goes back to the issues of access and choice. If a student can access learning from anywhere, from the provider of his or her choice, and can show through tangible artifacts that he or she understands the concepts and skills to be attained, who can say they are not educated? We in education are already starting to adjust. Some districts no longer require grades. In their place are portfolios of their work that serves as evidence of their learning. Attendance will be determined not in seat time but in engagement time, probably measured through software and algorithms. Testing will no longer be an event. Instead, data about learning will be culled from the daily work students complete online.

Finally, how schools are measured regarding achievement will change. Without standardized testing, states will have to come up with different (and hopefully) better ways for assessing school performance. For instance, could schools pursue different avenues for accreditation, where they met specific standards in order to be acknowledged for their efforts in their collective capacity? As an example, a school could be known not as a “Project-based School”, but rather a school in which every educator has met a level of proficiency in this approach through documented professional learning experiences. This future I predict - good or bad? With any type of change, it is hard to say, but it does sound exciting.

Response From Dr. Nancy Sulla

Dr. Nancy Sulla is the Founder and President of IDE Corp. and creator of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. She is the author of two books: It’s Not What You Teach But How: Making the CCSS Work for You and Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. Her book on executive function as the missing link to student achievement is due to be published in the spring of 2017. You can follow her on Twitter: @nsulla:

2045: Students head to learning spaces of their choice: public schools, parents’ place of business, their or friends’ homes, outside, businesses where they work part time, etc. Children can attend school anywhere, anytime. They can attend from different locations as desired: one day heading to work with dad, another at a vacation spot, another at the local public school.

Each student aged five to twenty-one has a team of teachers with whom to work. These teachers are located throughout the world. For example, students in Kansas learn French by joining a teacher and students in France. Teachers are thoroughly familiar with their students from an academic, social, and emotional aspect; they collaborate with one another to plan how to best support each student in the learning process. Teachers engage with students in person, online, and via videoconference, robotic remote presence devices, and holograms.

Students explore a variety of topics through text, video, and virtual fieldtrips, and identify problems and projects that are of interest to them. They work with their teachers to develop personalized learning plans that will allow them to achieve global standards for academics, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and work habits. They collaborate with others students locally in person and virtually around the world.

All subject area concepts, skills, and content students need to learn is available through technology; teachers are no longer needed for such lessons. They focus instead on helping students synthesize information, apply learning to new situations, problem-find, innovate, engage in entrepreneurial thinking, and achieve their goals.

Children are registered for schooling and assigned teachers at birth. From birth to four years old, teachers engage with both parent(s) and children to focus on building language skills and executive function to prepare students for kindergarten. Local schools provide free daycare centers for parents who work.

Response From Barnett Berry

Barnett Berry is the founder of the Center for Teaching Quality, a national nonprofit that’s transforming the teaching profession through the bold ideas and expert practices of teacher leaders. His latest book, written with colleagues Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder, is Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don’t Leave:

Yes, K-12 education will be dramatically changed. In what ways? It depends on what we do now.

I am no futurist. But I think Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute-- whose predictions of what lies ahead in science and technology can be amazingly accurate--has made some spot-on prognostications about the future of teaching and learning. Frey asserts that education entrepreneurs and the World Wide Web will dominate the business of schooling. As online courseware explodes--aided by the maturation of the Open Education Movement--student learning opportunities will be increasingly personalized (and far less teacher-centric).

But Frey’s crystal ball does not help us see the answers to three significant questions:

1. Will education entrepreneurship promote the common good of public education--or continue the trend of market-based reforms that fuel private interests and control of teaching and learning?

2. Will a personalized education for students invigorate deeper learning, or will accountability policies continue to incentivize one-size-fits-all schooling?

3. Will the explosion of new technologies promote teacher professionalism or undermine it?

Consider these three tensions:

First, educational entrepreneurship (like the efforts advanced by the Next Generation Learning Challenges) has shown how innovations from outside of school districts can drive equity and excellence for the common good. For example, the charter management organization Summit Public Schools has created a powerful system of personalized learning for diverse students. Summit’s model is now taking root even within school districts, as we see with the Denver School of Innovation & Sustainable Design (DSISD). But many other recent market-based disruptive innovations have created gross inequities. Consider the dire situation in Detroit, where a “sea of charter schools” increase profit-making, undermine the common good, and harm students.

But what if new education policies supported teachers to drive transformations in teaching and learning? What if policies placed a high premium on classroom experts who could design and launch teacher-powered schools, driving change from inside of school districts?

Second, philanthropies (the Nellie Mae Foundation, for instance) have done much to advance student-centered learning, rather than a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to schooling. But in increasing numbers of schools, personalization takes the form of individual action plans to “remediate each student’s poor data points” (as those points are revealed by a litany of standardized, computerized tests). Teachers want evidence about their students’ learning progressions, but lament that recent reforms and the misuse of data that “make it harder” for them to “reach and teach” their students. The specter of high-stakes accountability continues to loom large--making it difficult to disband age-based grouping and take instructional risks that truly personalize learning.

But what if states and districts took advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act--as suggested by this new paper from the Learning Policy Institute--and ushered in a new form of accountability using multiple measures for student learning (including teacher-designed assessments) to fuel innovation?

Third, technological tools and networks show tremendous promise for transforming teaching and learning. For example, e-tools like LearnZillion and Bloomboard save time for teachers, enabling them to share ideas about teaching to college- and career-ready standards. And new online teacher communities surface daily on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook--with nearly 6 in 10 teachers now using technology to work with teaching colleagues they “would not otherwise know.” The rise of teacher networking is de-siloing teaching practice--a major impediment to the profession in the past.

Meanwhile researchers like Molly Bullock Zielezinski and Linda Darling-Hammond have demonstrated that students (including underserved ones) benefit from technological tools that “emphasize discovery and exploration rather than direct instruction.” Facilitating this kind of learning requires high levels of teacher support--and responsiveness to community and cultural dynamics.

But the formal professional development most teachers experience can be quite pedantic.

American schools invest about $18 billion in teachers’ professional development annually. On average, teachers engage in about 68 hours of formal training (directed in large part by their school district). But the vast majority of professional development in America occurs via short-term workshops, a format that researchers and teachers find largely ineffective. Nearly one in five (18 percent) teachers never have a say in their professional development. Even the advent of professional learning communities (PLCs) have not improved American teachers’ opportunities to lead their own learning. Why? Studies show that PLCs have typically been implemented in American schools as instruments of compliance, not innovation--and teachers say so too.

But what if teachers wielded technology and networks to strengthen their own professional learning, including their ability to maximize digital learning for students? For example, might the emerging micro-credentialing movement, led by Digital Promise, create effective routes for teachers to document their accomplishments and spread their expertise? What if teachers used social media to market themselves and their impact, convincing parents (who have high levels of trust and confidence in teachers they know) to support teachers as a collective?

In TEACHING 2030, a book I penned six years ago with a dozen outstanding teachers of the CTQ Collaboratory, we envisioned how the Internet would allow students to learn anytime and anywhere. The same tools, we noted, would strengthen teachers’ ability to learn and to lead school reform (as opposed to being the targets of it). We described how public education could be supported by legions of teacherpreneurs, who have time and reward to incubate and execute their own ideas for the common good (not for private gain). We saw a way past the current school reform debates fraught with bias, blame, and contorted evidence. And we predicted that teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders could collaborate to create and sustain a public education system characterized by both equity and excellence.

No doubt, growing numbers of education entrepreneurs view the $600 billion public school enterprise as an investment target and potential profit source. But a reservoir of public sentiment could be tapped to create the “civic propulsion” for change, addressing significant tensions by advancing innovative strategies:

1) Tap teacher expertise to design and launch innovative designs for schools that personalize learning, with practitioners working closely with administrators, parents, and community members--as well as educational entrepreneurs willing to promote the common good.

2) Establish new forms of accountability--generating useful information that can provide clear guidance for supporting all students in deeper learning.

3) Support teachers to market their impact to strengthen confidence in the profession--and their collective ability to drive student-centered instruction that makes the most of cutting-edge technologies.

As Margaret Wheatley has so aptly noted, the world does not change on its own accord--or even one person at time. The world changes as “networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.” Let’s help policymakers and the public understand what that can mean for our students--and our public schools. Let’s build a future of schooling we can imagine together.

Response From PJ Caposey

PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, author of two books (Teach Smart and Building a Culture of Support), and sought after speaker and consultant specializing in school culture, principal coaching, effective evaluation practices, and student-centered instruction. PJ currently serves as the Superintendent of Schools for Meridian CUSD 223 in Northwest Illinois and can be reached via twitter (@MCUSDSupe):

The automobile is everywhere in the United States. In fact, there are nearly 250 million registered vehicles in America. The automobile provides a relatively safe, efficient, and cost effective means to transportation. While efficiencies and innovation make the automobile of the 2010s far greater than the automobile of the 1960s - they are in no substantive way dissimilar from each other.

The passenger jet has undergone significant transformation in the last fifty years. The jet is a safer, much more efficient (time), and relatively cost effective means of transportation. In fact, over 800 million people travel via jet each year.

If I were you, I may be asking why has he spent 100 of his 500 (ish) words on cars and planes when he is supposed to be talking about the future of schools? The reason is simple and I refer to it as Flying Car syndrome.

I view our current school system like the automobile. The school system is good for most users, has evolved slightly over the past sixty years, but is not dissimilar from its original form. Perhaps most importantly, traditional schooling is still a cost effective way to educate the masses.

The issue remains (I believe in my soul) that if the great educational minds of the day were charged with sitting in a room and re-inventing school, it would look nothing like it does today. It would be higher powered, more efficient, more individualized, and completely customizable. It would be the jet to the automobile which is our current school system.

The issue is that with something as sacred as public schooling, we could never seemingly simply abandon the old-system. We would have to preserve the traditions that make school great and made school meaningful to those people in power. (Those people typically LOVED the traditional school setting). See, we are in a conundrum - we cannot just create the ‘jet school’ - we have to create a flying car encompassing the best of the old and the best of the new.

This hybrid model calling on schools to evolve instead of asking for schools to be revolutionized makes progress slower and gains harder to come by. Seemingly, the evolution would also result in schools doing both things (preserving traditions and progressing forward in-step with society) with less effectiveness than if schools just chose to do one of the two options well. This is, seemingly, why I don’t have a flying van in my garage to take my four kids to school in each day. The efficiencies created by combining two similar objects may not provide all the benefits or securities of either entity when examined individually.

To end the metaphor, what I am simply trying to say is that schools cannot afford to evolve at ¼ of the pace the world is around it and not face the possibility of becoming dangerously irrelevant. So, to answer the question - do I think the classrooms of 2040 look like the classrooms of today? Yes, I think they look more like them than they do not. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that is not the way to best serve our kids in our ever-changing world. Let me be clear, great teaching and instruction has not fundamentally changed in the past 2000 years and will not in the next 30. The context of learning and doing our best to meet the needs of the society we are preparing kids for is how and why schools must be revolutionized, not simply evolve at their own pace.

Response From Ken Halla

Ken Halla, Ph.D., is the eLearning Coordinator for Fairfax County, VA, the nation’s 10th largest school system, and is the author of Deeper Learning Through Technology: Using the Cloud to Individualize Instruction. Follow him on Twitter at @kenhalla and read his blog.

Most schools today still look like 19th century one room school houses, just smaller ones sitting in nice neat rows cobbled together into one large building. This industrial age model is predicated, not on one’s learning pace, but rather centered around one’s birthday. While much of our world has been changing ahead at warp speed, schools have yet to have made the changes to truly meet the needs of today’s digital natives.

The school of the future should allow students to go at their own pace, chosen path, speed and even allow the students to decide the place where the learning will take place. No longer will students be tied to a nine month calendar. When mastery is attained, pupils will move onto the next task or class. Teachers will serve as facilitators rather than “sages on the stage.” Students will use laptops, smartphones or whatever other new device there is to access information and apply them to learning problems.

Tests will not be multiple choice, but rather application level questions that show both the ability to synthesize as well as apply the material to real world situation. Students who aren’t ready to move on will repeat their learning with their facilitator until understanding has been reached. While many leading edge teachers and schools are already doing some of these elements, this goes way beyond say flipping the classroom and doing “problem sets” in classrooms. It will mean finding different ways to move forward for each student. But it will go further. The school day will when it best suits students’ learning style, but since research says that we need to ponder our learning to make connections it will mean limiting student workloads to a reasonable amount as opposed to our current system of allowing hours of homework after an arduous day of learning. Nothing will be sacred. Relying on making students take four math classes simply because we have always done that will be redirected to consider what is needed for the 21st century world. Will we define computer language as one of our “world languages” and will we even have courses or rather a series of standards that students need to master to graduate?

With the ability to completely integrate technology in the learning process, our schools are sitting on the edge of the most fundamental change in learning since the inception of our public school system. Hang onto your hat as it’s going to be an amazing ride.

Thanks to Diana, Nancy, Matt, Barnett, PJ and Ken for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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This Year’s Most Popular Q & A Posts!

Classroom Management Advice

Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

Implementing The Common Core

Race & Gender Challenges

Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

Brain-Based Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

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Education Policy Issues

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Math Instruction

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Professional Development

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Author Interviews

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days...

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.