The Rules of Engagement: Taking a Critical Look

Jun 12, 12 The Rules of Engagement: Taking a Critical Look

Yesterday, educator and voicEd.ca author, Erik Rosenberg posted a video about 21st century learning, student engagement and the future of education. I would encourage all of you to take the time to view it, and then let’s talk about it.

The video itself really doesn’t make a lot of new points about the push towards reshaping the way we do school in the 21st century. It really doesn’t. But it does gather some prominant “21st century” voices together in one place, allowing us to begin to take a look at the messaging through the critical lenses that we are hoping to nurture in our own children.

There are parts of the video that may excite you. There are parts that may resonate with your thinking. But there are also parts that may cause you to bristle more than a little.

In addition to reflecting on what is foregrounded (that’s now a word) in the video, we need to ask what is being pushed into the background. What sort of changes does the way of thinking promoted in the video demand of our current systems. What will be gained in the process? What could be lost? And how do we negotiate the space between the two?

Educational thinker Sugata Mitra closes the video with this trio of 21st century living and learning skills:

Reading comprehension is the most critical skill at this point in time, for a generation that is going to read off of screens for the rest of their lives. Information search and retrieval skills: if people know a keyword, follow a link or not—it’s a key skill. If arithmetic is an outdated skill, this is the skill that will replace it. And finally if a child knows how to read, if a child knows how to search for information, how do we teach them how to believe?”

This is where I would like to begin my thinking over the next couple of posts.

So, I encourage you to take a look at the 13 minute video and join me in reflecting on the message, its value and its implications!

About Stephen Hurley


I've been privileged to spend the last 30 years serving the public education system in Ontario. Through opportunities to work at most levels of the system, I have developed a heart for big picture thinking that is grounded in the reality of today's schools. I'm passionate about my own learning and look forward to nurturing that passion through my presence at voicEd.ca

2 Comments

  1. For me, it’s analogous to the voices in renewable energy, telling us how else we should be fuelling our cars, though we keep stopping at our local gas station. The video looks great, but fails to make concrete connections between our in-place school system and the values celebrated in the video. In my opinion, near-term alternatives to institutional education need to be adaptable to the existing classroom environment.

    That’s why I’m focusing on getting the students I work with to recognise and understand curriculum standards so that they can begin to design their own programs in a manner that meets Ministry requirements for their courses. This year, I implemented my latest iteration of this approach with a Grade 12 Economics class, and have continued with a Grade 9 Applied English class. While it’s far from perfected, there’s no doubt in my mind that my attempts to foster student-directed learning can work in the bureaucratic classroom.

    I’m in process of being able to articulate the principles and practices of this approach so other high school teachers can use it with their students. The basic platform is as follows:

    1) Deliver Unit 1 in a traditional manner, helping students identify how this unit connects to the targeted Ministry standards. After the unit is complete, brainstorm with students other ways they could have demonstrated the same learning goals.

    2) Have students articulate their existing skills and interests, in a way that recognises the ways in which they’re enabled and celebrates differences within the classroom community.

    3) Have students express their classroom responsibilities, and implement systems that require each student to keep of their ‘job’ performance.

    4) Foster student input into how they will demonstrate achievement of curriculum targets for the remaining learning units. Have students collect their efforts in portfolios, and help them demonstrate the ways in which their efforts connect to the course objectives.

    The most common resistance I hear from adults is that not all students are enterprising. There is a sense that without absolute direction and structure, students will flounder, and the limited time available to cover mandated-curriculum cannot afford to be wasted.

    My counter is that all students are capable of some-level of enterprise, even if it’s choosing between lined and blank paper. By making choices about how they learn, students can make connections between choice and consequence, taking increasing amounts of responsibility for their own learning experience. This year, one of my most delightful discoveries has been a sense that the greatest source of student enterprise has been the enterprising efforts of other students in the class. When Sam sees that Leo has a cool project on the go, Sam wants to figure out how to do something cool also, instead of following the drab direction of the teacher. And as more of my students begin to take ownership for their learning, I can transition from the front of the class, to fostering the different projects my students have undertaken.

    As a last thought, I’d like to share my sense that in the 20th century, the most difficult thing for a teacher to say to their class was “I don’t know”, because of the sense that teachers were the keepers of knowledge and know-how. But for a 21st century teacher to succeed, we need to be able to let go out the steering wheel. We’ll know this is happening because we seek conversations with our students where we find ourselves saying that very same “I don’t know”.

  2. Nancy /

    Values of a different kind – values of indoctrination – sell the idea, so students and parents will volunteer on their own to slam the future doors of opportunities, by the belief the foundation of reading, writing and numeracy are not needed in the 21st century.

    Prof. Sugata Mitra states, ““Reading comprehension is the most critical skill at this point in time, for a generation that is going to read off of screens for the rest of their lives. Information search and retrieval skills: if people know a keyword, follow a link or not—it’s a key skill. If arithmetic is an outdated skill, this is the skill that will replace it. And finally if a child knows how to read, if a child knows how to search for information, how do we teach them how to believe?”

    As Erik Rosenberg has pointed out – ” The video looks great, but fails to make concrete connections between our in-place school system and the values celebrated in the video. In my opinion, near-term alternatives to institutional education need to be adaptable to the existing classroom environment.”

    The values that I see as a form of indoctrination to accept the knowledge, without having a firm foundation in the basic knowledge to be able to connect and engage the learner. Computer technology is a great motivator tool, but it is as effective providing the user has the fundamental skills and abilities to manipulate the computer environment, that enables them to learn new knowledge.

    Prof. Sugata Mitra is advocating for dumbing down the skills of the 3 Rs, and in its place, strategies to overcome the weaknesses of the foundation in the 3 Rs. The only people that I know of picking a key word, to explore new knowledge, are the people who process good reading, writing and numeracy skills. It is relatively easy to teach students with good reading, writing and numeracy skills the how-tos’ regarding Information search and retrieval skills, but a difficult task with students who have lower basic skills.

    The same problem that Erik was confronted – “The most common resistance I hear from adults is that not all students are enterprising. There is a sense that without absolute direction and structure, students will flounder, and the limited time available to cover mandated-curriculum cannot afford to be wasted.

    My counter is that all students are capable of some-level of enterprise, even if it’s choosing between lined and blank paper. By making choices about how they learn, students can make connections between choice and consequence, taking increasing amounts of responsibility for their own learning experience. ”

    Common sense, but Prof. Sugata Mitra, is another breed of a very old kind teaching the brightest, in the hope that the not so less brighter students, will imitate the brightest students, in their engagement and learning. He is not so great on the nuts and bolts, nor should he be, considering that the biggest growth in India, are the private schools set up by low-income people, due to the poor quality of schooling that the low-income children. As for his credentials, and it is helpful to know to understand Prof. Sugata Mitra motivations is the bio on Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugata_Mitra

    Impressive educational background and accomplishments. However, he is profiting to serve his best interests, to proudly explained that all children can learn how to operate computers on their own without being taught to. Common sense, or otherwise the 80 year old using the i-pad , texting on their i-phone – would present a false image.

    Mitra, was the chief scientist for MIIT – “NIIT now sells the kiosks at between $6,000 and $20,000—depending on which model and how many screens—to the government, who puts them mostly in schools in India’s poorest areas. There are 500 stations in India and a handful in 10 different African countries.

    Having customers means NIIT has had to compromise on the original vision. For instance, the government requires administrators to keep an eye on the systems. They’re not open when an administrator isn’t there. But running the program as a business has assured its survival and given NIIT the cash flow to pour money into content creation so it doesn’t have to rely on the country’s spotty Internet connections for kids to stay engaged. Gupta says his job isn’t necessarily to be a profit center. Success is running a break-even program that makes a social impact. But that’s still a world away from a donor-funded program.”

    http://techcrunch.com/2009/11/15/how-to-profit-off-the-poor%E2%80%A6-and-keep-your-soul/

    The name of the article is aptly entitled – How to Profit off the Poor… and Keep Your Soul

    Gee – I always believed that human beings are creatures of self-taught learning. It certainly makes a parents life easily, if their children were motivated to learn on their own – toilet training, but the key to everything, as teachers have found out – is motivation and what makes the kids tick to learn, in the same way, as some kids who literally toilet trained themselves, and other kids who refuse to get out of the diaper stage. Sal Khan of Khan Academy, said it best in the video, the key is motivation, but somehow the motivation to learn is driven out of the kids in the present school structure.

    So Erik, you gotta start somewhere, even if it is a choice between lined and blank paper. By the way, the best teachers I ever had, were always willing to say, “I don’t know”, and they were also the teachers with clear and defining rules, skipped a class came with consequences, and the teachers did their part, they took the time to find out what made the students tick. In so doing, every kid including me, was eager to go to class. High expectations, and none of us ever thought to skipped their class, because we were actually learning. The 4 teachers and their courses were so popular, two of the teachers who experienced Hitler’s Germany, and the aftermath, had the ability to select their students. Who did they picked? Not the students who where the high achievers, but the students like myself. Never was motivated to learn by high school. even though I was capable of rising to the top of my class, but very happy sitting at a 75 average. The first day of the law class, the teacher explains what will not happen and the consequences if it does happen, and than proceeds to stand in front of each student, without ever looking at notes, telling them what he expected from them. Finally it was my turn, interesting school file, in my class you won’t have the luxury of coasting at a 75 percent in my class. I will expect you to be my top achieving student in this class. And, I look up to him – his grandfather face – I expect you to asked me questions that I don’t know anything about, and I will welcome them here in my classroom. We all here to learn about the law. Then, he made us sign a contract, agreeing to the rules and what was expected from us. I spent more time skipping other classes, to go to the library reading up about law, to asked the questions that the teacher could not answer. The biggest discussions that took place that year, was property rights and the right to bear arms.

    I was motivated to learned on my own, without being nagged and the funny thing, I studied the same amount for exams, which was not that much, and yet I was pulling 90s in the classes of the 4 teachers who actually took the time to find out what makes each student tick. I was motivated to learn, and at the same time, I give the top achievers some uncomfortable moments when tests and essays were handed back. They did not like to be bested by a slacker, and one who skipped classes, and borrowed their notes to photo-copy at the library. It all happened in the early 70s, and why can’t it happen today, given the amount of data streams found in the student files today.

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