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Learning at its Best

From Teaching to Learning

Cross posted at What Ed Said

We’re working on shifting the focus from teaching to learning at my school. We try to ensure decisions are based on our learning principles, be they about teaching, classrooms, programs or personnel.

Shifting the focus from teaching to learning…

We used to spend a whole day planning how we would teach a unit of inquiry.

Now we  discuss the big ideas, establish the conceptual lens, clarify the enduring understandings… and then wait and see how the learning unfolds.

We used to think we had to plan a whole range of activities and work our way through them.

Now we create a bank of possible provocations on which to draw to stimulate student thinking as their skills and understandings develop.

We used to think the whole class had to do the same thing at the same time in the same place.

Now we think groups of learners might spread out through the learning spaces doing different things, learning in different ways.

We used to think we had to teach the whole class the same skills.

Now we think explicit teaching is often focused on smaller groups depending on their specific needs at the time.

We used to think teachers controlled the learning and always knew where the learning would end up.

Now we think it’s valuable to really listen to what learners say so that what they know, understand, think and care about can drive the learning.

We used to think we had to teach every subject separately.

Now we think the best learning is often trans-disciplinary. The more connections learners make and the more they get to apply their learning in different, authentic contexts, the better.

We used to think about assessment of and assessment for learning.

Now we think about assessment as learning too. We encourage self reflection, goal setting and metacognition in our learners.

How much teachers have shifted depends on experience (but not always), on understanding, courage, and imagination. We still sometimes have trouble letting go of old ways of thinking. Sometimes we still use new learning  spaces in old ways. Some teachers still use new technology to do old things. External demands and time pressures often inhibit what we can do. But we’re constantly working on it and we know that we have changed.

It’s easy to talk about educational reform. Some inspiring educators have succeeded in entirely reinventing school. Take Monica Hardy’s Innovation Lab or Kelly Tenkely’s Anastasis Academy. Most teachers, however, are confined by the reality of life in their institutions, rules from above, expectations from outside, cultural and economic influences. While these may prevent the radical kinds of innovation that would rapidly transform education, change can happen, one school at a time, one class at a time, one teacher at a time, one idea at a time.

Do you have a teaspoon?

I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…(Pete Seeger)


About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...


5 thoughts on “From Teaching to Learning

  1. I agree with your premise, but see little evidence of large-scale, global change where I teach. Instead, I see the opposite happening with the ivory tower people shutting down innovation which threatens them.

    Posted by ivonprefontaine | June 25, 2012, 11:24 am
  2. Ed(na), As always, I am deeply enthused by your vision. Thank you for making the differences so explicit. Unlike the commenter above, I think this is exactly where the world is going, one teaspoonful at a time.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | June 26, 2012, 10:32 am
  3. I like what you say about assessment for learning and assessment of learning.

    It’s difficult for many to understand how students can achieve all of the Common Core Standards (or any standards) when units are so open-ended. But, when you start listing the standards and ticking off the standards you observe students accomplishing, the learning because authentic – and it “sticks” better.

    I need to teach in an IB school sometime…

    Janet |

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | June 27, 2012, 12:54 am
  4. Since I’m reading John Hattie’s book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning I can relate to your what’s happening in your school. Have you used his work as a guide? I’d love to learn more about your journey.

    Posted by Blair Peterson | July 1, 2012, 7:43 pm
  5. Sounds wonderful! Congratulations and good luck! Have you read any of the works of Dr. Maria Montessori? I see many parallels between what you are doing and what she advocated.

    Posted by Brian | July 2, 2012, 11:18 am

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