Is it a fun, friendly, and entertaining teacher? Sure, for a while
that works, until the novelty wears off. Is it a rigorous, competitive
curriculum that is filled with academic challenges? Absolutely, but
not all students can succeed in such an environment. Maybe it is the
incorporation of a totally hands-on, manipulative-based classroom.
Definitely. Especially for those people who think in very concrete
ways. How about a classroom where singing, dancing, and drama are the
focal points? Have you ever heard me sing? Enough said.
So what is the point of all these questions? Simply, there is not one perfect teaching style or classroom environment for all students. Yet, who would argue with the ideal that "no child should be left behind?" We are educators because we want to see all students learn, achieve, succeed, and grow. I wish I could patent the way to incorporate all of the attributes listed above into one "super-teacher."
I believe that the typical classrooms of our youth have outlived their usefulness. No longer can the teacher be the all-knowing giver of the information. Teachers need to move past using lecture and rote memorization, and instead, they need to let students take ownership of their learning. 21st Century students need access to information and they need access to the tools for learning. Our job as educators is to help them sort it all out correctly.
So how do we do that? We need to incorporate much more authentic learning into our classrooms. We need to provide students with work that has intrinsic meaning and adds value to their lives. For students to be engaged, self-directed learners, they must create projects and solve problems that connect to the world beyond the classroom. Working with our students to solve authentic problems is what will engage them in learning. This is what will engage them in substantive conversations and whet their appetite for a depth of knowledge never before seen in our schools.
True authentic learning will engage all learners because the topics will be real for them. The academically gifted student, the artist, the mechanically inclined child, and the highly dramatic kid all can find success in a problem-based environment in which they are expected to work together and use their individual strengths to solve real problems.
In a few weeks, my thirteen year old daughter will start her obligatory eighth grade "research paper," the completion of which is a requirement for "graduating" from her middle school. She will be required to research a topic, complete and turn in the note cards for a grade, then write the paper, and turn it in for a grade. If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the classic type of reporting we all completed in middle and high school. The students will go through the motions of looking up information on a topic that has no real meaning in their lives, and then regurgitating the information back to the teacher in a report that must be written in a format prescribed by the teacher . Knowing this teacher, I can accurately predict that she will mark up the final draft with a red pen (which my child will not pay any attention to), and the teacher will assign a grade which will weigh heavily in the child's final trimester grade.
Why does this bother me? Because there is absolutely no relevance in this kind of work, and the rigor involved is artificial. The students will be told what kinds of topics to research, precisely how to do the research, and exactly how the information should be reported back to the teacher, who has total ownership in the learning. The students will not be invested in this project; they will not be fully engaged in this activity because it will have no meaning in their lives.
Teachers in the 21st Century must change and adapt to keep up with their students. The time has come for teachers to move away from rote memorization, repetitive practice, silent study without conversation, and brief exposure to topics, and instead, move closer to authentic learning.