Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who Is Really Doing the Learning?

I have a lot running around in my brain these days.  One thing that seems to come up over and over again when I think about what I'm doing with my students  is who is REALLY doing the learning?

Now a days there are lot of great ideas flowing through the twitter universe. My colleagues are doing great things and I am reading about other fantastic ideas.  There are global projects, collaborative projects, and many different ways for my students to learn.  There are iPad apps and websites that allow us to do amazing things, things that we could not possibly do with out them.  Education is changing, and for the most part I really love what I'm seeing.

But something isn't sitting right with me.  Perhaps it's because using technology really has become fully engrained into what we do in my classroom.  It is used as a tool, or a choice to show and share learning.  These days I am far less likely to plan a lesson around a specific app, and far more likely to show my students different apps so that they can choose the best way for them to show me what they know.  While this isn't a new way of thinking for me, it is becoming a much stronger way of thinking for me.

When I first started changing my teaching practices after joining twitter in July 2011, I was really excited to try new things.  I am a risk taker and so when I learned about new ways to teach and  I could see the value in the new way, I was not afraid to give it a try.  My class and I tried a lot of new things.  But with all that exploration I have to say that I didn't really think too much about who was REALLY doing the learning.  I can assure you I very quickly learned a ton!  But what about my students, because really they are why I do what I do.  When I look back I wonder which projects were driven by me, because they were of value to me, and which ones were driven by my students.

These days I am far more critical when I choose the projects my students and I will get involved with.  My students are part of the discussion before we decide if we are going to take part in a project or not.  As their teacher I have these grand ideas of doing complicated collaborative projects with classes from around the world.  I can easily see how we can make these projects work, and how we can involved others too. This stuff comes naturally to me. But so many of the projects I dream up in my head, or I see others planning, are being guided and directed by the teacher, and not the students.  I ask myself, who is doing the learning?

Recently we completed a project with some students at a local high school.  My students illustrated and created these fabulous books written by grade eight students.  They did this, for the most part, independently on their iPads.  Unfortunately, the problem with creating books on iOs devices is that they can only be shared on iOs devices.  I wanted the world to be able to enjoy our stories too so I figured out a way to do this.  By taking screen shots, and adding voice to those shots in a voice recording app, we were able to create iMovies of the stories. Our iMovies were sent to youtube and now they can be accessed by anyone, any where in the world.  I'd say that's pretty cool, and  my students thinks so too.

But why did I just share that story? In my brilliant idea of sharing the books through iMovie, I thought it would be great if we created the books in iMovie on my laptop.  That way we could have actual "page turning" transitions so it would really look more like a book than just a movie.  In my mind it was a great idea. But that's where things stopped sitting well with me and here's why.  If my students did all the work on their iPads, then I transferred their work to MY LAPTOP, then I put the clips in order in MY IMOVIE, then I  created the final movie who is doing all the learning there? Me or my students?  ME!  This is exactly what I am trying to avoid.  So I shared the above story to let you know that the movies were not made on my laptop, and they do not contain page turning transitions for that very reason.  But they were made by my students INDEPENDENTLY!  Who ended up doing the learning? THEM!

So now when ever I'm invited into a special project, I  think it through to see who will be doing the most learning.  If I'm at the centre of the learning, then there is strong likely hood that I will have to let the project pass me by until such time as I can figure out a way to get my students back at the centre.

The problem with all of this though, is that I still want to expose my students to things  over their heads so that they can see what is possible. And often it isn't until we (mainly me demonstrating in front of my students) give something a try that I realized they could do a lot of these things independently.  I am no longer surprised by how amazing they are.  So if it is a project that is of interest to them, and  they want to give it a try shouldn't we?  I'm not really sure where I should be drawing the line and it's something I think about a lot.   I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Note: It is late, so this may not make any sense! I apologize in advance!

    I so understand where this is coming from! After teaching Kindergarten for many years, and coming back after my fist maternity leave, this hit me hard. I began to question why I was doing all the work (learning)? I think those of us who teach younger students especially fall into this trap because we assume that since they are so young, they couldn't possibly know how to do what is needed for them to do.

    Coming back from maternity leave forced me to analyse my teaching. How liberating it was to allow the students guide the learning and work independently! It's such a simple concept, but I think some of us feel like we are going to be judged if our students do not produce perfection. I want the kids to produce their best work... but often it used to end up being MY best work!

    You are right, often our students surprise us as to what the end up knowing what to do. But in the instances where they don't, I think this is where our role lies. We need to facilitate the learning by modelling and guiding WHEN the students ask us to AND we also need to sit back and allow the kids to amaze us with their learning!

    Thank you,Karen, I often need to remind my perfectionist self of this!

    1. Iram, thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment. I now remind myself that it isn't about me at all. My students have shown me over and over again that they are very capable of way more than most think, yet sometimes while they are very capable I need (or we as a class need) to decide if it's something they should be doing. Developmentally appropriate is something I keep in the front of my mind, and more importantly keeping them in control of their learning. Having taught 5-7 year olds for most of my 20+ career I do believe I have a pretty good handle on what is developmentally "typical" for this age group.

      Such lucky students (and teachers) working with you.