5 Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator

Technology is a crucial part of what is happening in the classroom, and whenever a new hardware or software comes out, educators are thinking, “How could we use this in the classroom?” Although we should have different ways and options to reach all students, we far too often start thinking about the “stuff” instead of what our students need. For learning to be “student-centred”, then our questions should often focus on the student experience in the classroom.

Here are some questions that can help us create new and better opportunities for our students in their learning:

1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

In my experience teaching professional learning opportunities, one of the hardest audiences that we can teach are educators. They have truly high expectations of their own learning, not only because they create those same environments for their own classroom, but their time is limited. Educators always have things that they could be doing, so if the professional learning is not engaging and meaningful, we often start thinking about all of the other things that we could be doing with our time to help our students.

These high expectations are something we need to tap into for our students. If we asked this question and started to empathize with the experience our students have in the classroom, it would really help us think about learning from their point of view. For example, if worksheets were handed out in a professional learning opportunity, some teachers would be bored to tears, yet do we do the same thing to our students? That type of learning is not about what is better for kids, but what is easy for teachers. We have to try and think about the experience from our student’s perspective.

2. What is best for this student?

When I think about my experience in school, I had some amazing teachers, but I don’t know if I really understood the way that I learned most effectively. I remember later on in school and university, that I would write notes from my teacher and go over them later (which would never actually happen) not because that is what worked for me, but that is what every other student did. Again, this was more about the teacher than the student. It is important to not only think about the perspective from the class as a whole, but to know each student and what works for them.

How do they learn best? What are some ways that they can show their learning? For example, if a student is trying to share their understanding of any curriculum objective, is writing it down every time the only way they can show what they understand? Could they create a video, share a podcast, create a visual, or something else? There are different ways that kids can learn so it is important that we not only know that, but they know it as well.

3. What is this student’s passion?

When I was in school, I remember constantly being asked to read novel after novel, even though it was not something that I found interesting. I know it important that in school we are exposed to different things, but I was never once asked to read any non-fiction in school, even though that is what I was interested in most. It was near impossible to get me read to a novel, but at any point in a day, I would head off to the library and read every Sports Illustrated that I could get my hands on, cover-to-cover. This is something that should have been tapped into in my school experience.

Relationships are the foundation of every great school, so we need to learn more about our students and what they love, and tap into them, One of the best experiences that I have ever had in school as an educator was “Identity Day”, where kids would share things that they loved outside of school in a type of display or presentation. There was such an enthusiasm to share their interests, and it is important that from this knowledge, we help to create better experience for our students that taps into these passions.

4. What are some way that we can create a true learning community? 

I remember once hearing someone say, “Why is it that when kids leave school, they have a ton of energy, and teachers are tired? Why is not the other way around?” The reality is, we often create experiences that students become dependent upon the teacher for learning. What would be beneficial for not only our students and ourselves, is if we can have them tap into the expertise of one another, not just the teacher. Things such as blogging, edmodo, google apps, and using twitter hashtags in the classroom, help us to open our students learn from one another. We need to embrace the idea that everyone in our classroom is a teacher and a learner, and tap into this community, especially in a world where we can learn so much from networks.

5. How did this work for our students?

At the end of the year, I would always ask for feedback from my students on my teaching. This would really help improve my teaching for the next set of students, but did nothing for the kids that were in my classroom that year. Getting feedback often throughout the year, not just in the form of grades, but through conversations, both open and anonymous to ensure our students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, helps us to reflect on how we are serving our students that in currently in the classroom. Reflection is a crucial part of becoming a better educator and learner, and should be a process that we embrace as teachers so that we can also see the benefits of reflection in learning for our students.

Again, to create new and better opportunities for our students, it is important that we empathize with the experience of our students and try to understand what it is like to be a learner in our classroom. Teachers need to be experts in learning first, before they can be truly effective teaching. Just because a pencil or a computer works for us in our learning, doesn’t mean that it works for each student. We have to remember that each kid is different and unique, and the more we know about them as learners, the better they will do. But it is also important that through this experience, it is not only teachers that understand how their students learn, but the students themselves. After their time with us, if they have a deep understanding of how they learn, they will be able to continuously grow after our time with them. That is a true measure of teacher effectiveness.

5 Comments

  1. Mark Renaud said:

    Student Voice is crucial when determining what is happening in the classroom. When implementing technology you should consider what make their learning. Consider the following:

    •input/decision>modalites in hand

    •collaboration piece>classroom environment

    •direct responsible for their learning>equity

    December 15, 2014
    Reply
  2. Jason Loke said:

    I think you may have missed a question… I know ‘5’ is a more enticing list than ‘6’ but one question that I have found very useful is

    ‘How do you want to learn this?’

    If we want student-centred instruction then putting students at the centre of the instruction, not just on the receiving end, should be a part of every teachers practice. I know you have touched on it with the 360 feedback loop referenced in question 5 but unless we explicitly plan for co-construction we will not engage in it.
    At the beginning of the year I talk with students about what learning might look like in the classes I teach, what my expectations are around their engagement and contributions, and that throughout the year they will not only learn mathematics but also be tasked with exploring their preferred learning approaches.
    I explain that we have set assessment tasks to meet the criteria specified by the education department but how students engage in the learning along the way is entirely flexible (to a point! opting out or slacking off isn’t acceptable). Students can work online through instructional videos and other tutorial apps, in small collaborative groups, independently, using a text book, requesting explicit instruction on particular concepts (either from me, other students in the class, or other teachers in the learning common that they learn better with), using activity and work sheets made available through our LMS, or in some other manner as discussed and planned with me.
    Although every student may be working on a different problem at any given time, and I have to switch my headset across all of them, I find it incredibly rewarding and energising. Then the students have the capacity to answer the other 5 questions:
    1. Would I want to be a learner in my own class? They can choose to go and learn from another teacher during the same session times. So if I have zero students left I know I need to lift my game!
    2. What is best for this student? Students co-construct the learning experience and the informal demonstrations of learning, I then provide input if I see an issue arising or goals/achievements not being met.
    3. What is this student’s passion? Students bring their passion to the learning environment! My colleague had to personalise an entire mathematics topic around Biology concepts because the student brought that passion with them and co-constructed the learning.
    4. What are some ways that we can create a true learning community? The students define their own learning community through co-construction of pedagogies, resources, and modes of operating within that space.
    5. How did this work for our students? The students reflect continually on their progress, performance, and improvements needing to be made in their approaches to learning maths.

    Challenging, but pretty darn good fun!

    December 15, 2014
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  3. Pam Ronan said:

    I concur with Jason’s observations but also add the notion of what David Price calls ‘hard fun.’ Sometimes students can expect that the heavy lifting is done by the teacher and that perhaps the students just come along for the ride…so I like to emphasise the importance of learning being challenging and that the rewards are worth the investment of the effort!

    December 18, 2014
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  4. Paul Walker said:

    There are good ideas here and the article is very thought provoking. Considering student interests, what instructional methods work best for each student, and creating learning communities within our classrooms are all great ideas. This is a way for the student to be involved in the learning process. I also like what Mr. Like mentioned about the “How” of the instructional process.

    Thanks for the great thinking points!

    Paul Walker

    July 1, 2015
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