Making the student the teacher in an Age of Technology
LIGHTING A FIRE | by Mark Gura
Many of us are witnesses to a steady stream of examples of 21st-century innovation in instruction that show up with regularity via digital media. However encouraging they may be, though, it is often the case that connections between these dots of hope elude us. They don’t come together to form a big-picture understanding of anything transformative. Recently, though, several items coalesced for me into something that I’d like to share, an approach I’ll call, “Making the Student the Teacher”. Making the Student the Teacher is a shift in the way instructional activities are structured that fosters a very high level of engagement and meaningful learning and that provides a vehicle for authentic assessment. This is a simple approach that a few insightful educators are actually implementing currently. And it’s a model that all who care about education should take notice of.
Making the Student the Teacher is an idea that would have had every bit as much validity decades ago as it does currently. However, the ever-increasing abundance of easy-to-acquire and use web-based resources finally makes this approach practical. Like many great ideas that have been waiting for a catalyst to shift them into high gear, this is one whose time has come in this current age of technology.
One of the items that my habitual web mining for educational gems unearthed recently is a program bearing the name Globaloria, which describes itself as “… a social learning network where students develop digital literacies, STEM and computing knowledge, and global citizenship through game design.” Perusing Globaloria’s website, I was immediately impressed by how it fosters learning by supporting students in creating games that are intended to teach others.
This is exactly what’s needed to motivate and focus today’s students. Learning is far more powerful when the subject one learns about is self selected, which is a particular strength of this approach. Furthermore, the content and conceptual knowledge needed to produce a game based on that subject guides and drives student research, as well as the development of communication skills needed to present and explain it. And because the finished game will be posted online and likely seen by a real audience, some of whom will respond with feedback, the student is motivated to produce something of high quality that he can be proud of. The finished product also forms the basis for assessment. No reliance on marginally relevant short answer recall here — the richness of information and efficacy of presentation very authentically reveal what’s been learned. Brilliant! Here we see a flavor of learning activity that appears to actually be worthy of our students’ time and attention!
Another item I came across recently is Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest. This program, which is supported by Samsung (and a number of partners who are listed on the program’s website), asks “…6th-12th grade public school teachers across the U.S. to create videos with their students that answer the challenge: ‘Show how STEM can help improve the environment in your community.’”
I googled up some examples of submissions to this contest and found the video created by The Neah Bay School. Wow! This provides a very thoughtful and insightful explanation of the school’s project to clean up a local environmental problem, the diesel fuel fouled soil of nearby Tatoosh Island, by cultivating a fungus known to be effective in digesting such pollution. In so many ways this is innovative, powerful science learning; learning made very relevant because it’s applied to solving an important, real-world problem. Best of all, the rest of us can learn about it by watching the video explanation produced by the school’s students, who’ve been transformed in the process of creating it, from student to teacher.
The final item I’ll share, the one that actually precipitated recognizing the Making the Student the Teacher pattern, is my recent conversation with Professor Dan Stein (this can be heard in my Lighting a Fire podcast). Dan teaches a number of university-level teacher preparation courses. What’s so significant about Dan’s work is that the students with whom he uses this approach are either early career K-12 classroom teachers, or about to become teachers.
And it’s clear to me that when applied at this entry point, this is a practice that can transform the current state of education. This is because, in turn, his students will be making many thousands of their own students ‘the teacher’ in the instructional activities they’ll plan and implement over the next few decades. They’ll be spreading the concept and model far and wide.
As is true for all profound changes that take place in our era, true change happens virally. The seeds Dan is planting in his students will beneficially infect the intellectual lives of a great many down the road.
Dan explains that all of his students must create a website as part of their work in his Education classes. Now, when was the last time you heard of an Education prof who requires a website? His students’ sites, many of them replete with educational videos that they either create personally or appropriate from YouTube, are Dan’s students’ medium for teaching others what they’ve learned. The technology is there, as are other resources and elements, but it is the context that’s important: getting students to learn by challenging them with teaching others. That’s what brings it all into focus.
For links to items cited above, check out: http://www.lighting-a-fire.com/
Mark Gura was a public school teacher in East Harlem for two decades, a staff and curriculum developer for the New York City Department of Education for five years, and was eventually tapped to establish their Office of Instructional Technology, where he was Director for 7 years, supervising professional development in the use of technology citywide. After retiring, he joined Fordham University’s Regional Technology Center and continues to write, speak, podcast and share his unique insights and knowledge. Visit: http://www.markgura.blogspot.com/ and also: http://www.lighting-a-fire.com/ Write to: [email protected]