I have been doing a lot of thinking about thinking lately. We have had Ron Ritchart visit our school in the past few days to talk about Making Thinking Visible routines and creating Cultures of Thinking in our school and classrooms. Ron has given us lots of great insight into what it means to make our school a place of thinking and learning instead of being a place of work. Teachers need to give up the role of expert who fills students with knowledge and take on the challenge of providing and guiding students through rich thought filled activities and learning experiences where kids gain knowledge and 21st century skills by thinking. These concepts are not necessarily new or earth shattering and some of the same concepts are prevalent in project based learning.
What does technology have to do with all of this? I feel like there is this overwhelming fear that technology is going to make teachers obsolete. Why do we need teachers when there is a world of knowledge out there on the internet that students can access anytime they want? Why should I submit my learning (I am making a concerted effort to stop calling it work or school work) to the teacher for feedback when I can use powerful learning networks to get varied feedback from peers near and far, adult mentors and possibly professionals or experts in the field for which I am studying? Why take a test in my class when that same test can be delivered online and it can be graded quickly and more efficiently and I can use that feedback to guide my learning?
The simple answer to these questions for me is that the salvation of the future teacher is thinking. If we look at a teacher as a provider of knowledge and facts we are almost already obsolete. I say almost because students at this stage still need guidance in how to navigate the vast amounts of good, bad and ugly information that is at the disposal of any connected student. What we really need to start doing is teaching our students to think. We need to be providers of rich learning opportunities that are student driven, that force kids to reflect on what they know and what they want to know, that allow for choice, or are produced or presented for an authentic audience. While we give these opportunities we also need to support kids with good feedback and allow for taking risks. In the words of Ron Ritchart great learning opportunities need to have “low threshold, high ceilings and wide walls”. What I took from this is that low threshold means that everyone can get into the activity immediately. High ceilings indicate that the learning opportunities are open ended and can be extended for those who want to take it to the next level. Wide walls allow for students to demonstrate and explore learning in a wide array of ways.
Technology can not do all of this. Good teachers who want to have student learn to think must use the technology that they have at their disposal to support and encourage thinking. The ways in which technology can replace the “old school” teacher and make that teacher obsolete are tools for the new age teacher to meet the needs of students and allow for further exploration. They free teachers up from being the deliverer of knowledge to being true facilitators of learning and understanding. It frees them to develop and encourage new paths to knowledge and understanding. The technology helps to provide supports for the low threshold, scaffolds to reach the high ceilings and the means and methods to stretch the wide walls.
How will schools look in 5 years? 10 years? 15 years? I can hardly guess at what the physical structures will be (school, classroom, etc) but I know that if teachers want to remain an important part of education we need to embrace technology integration to create meaningful and rich learning opportunities for our kids. It would be great to see more flexibility in learning allowing for more student support for those who need it and more autonomy for those who want to expand their learning by exploring areas of greater interest. A great example of that is Henry County in Georgia and the WIN (what I need) program. They have given their students a day that is set aside for extra help or extension into an area of interest. Teachers play an important role by approving plans for how kids will use this day. Students have to submit their plans for how they will use the day and they may be told that they need to use the time to get extra help with a concept or skill instead of pursuing some other learning that day. Extra help may come from teachers or peers. I think this is a great idea that make better use of available resources and supports.
Some may think that technology is rendering the teacher obsolete and that it is only a matter of time before we will not be needed. I disagree. I think it is an exciting time to be a teacher. We can use technology to change learning for the better.