Home > Uncategorized > The Teacher as a Magnifying Glass

The Teacher as a Magnifying Glass

Two key themes have emerged recently in the blogsphere that would merit being brought together and analysed in tandem.

On the one hand, there has been discussion, around the way curricula are constructed. Tom Barrett, for example, discussed negotiated learning and the need to co-construct the learning journey in his post Set your compass: Share your direction in which he calls on his readers to cater for ‘divergent and tangential’ thinkers by setting course for an unknown destination. He asks his readers to abandon ‘legacy systems’ and embrace new ways of constructing learning by imagining a future vastly different from our present. The Harvard Education Letter Blog recently published a fascinating insight into a curriculum constructed from learner’s questions and the active teaching of how questions are formed. John Jones reminds us of the richness and importance of social learning by evoking, although not directly referencing the Vygotskyian principle of cultural mediation on the zone of proximal development.

The second theme that has emerged is the way in which learners are fundamentally changing the way the deal with information. A study has emerged from scientists ast Columbia, Massachusetts-Madison and Harvard that claims immediate and effectively unlimited access to information resulting from search engines like Google, and hardware advances like smartphones and tablet computers, has shifted the way people manage and retain information. They claim that people retain the knowledge of how to find information, and place the knowledge itself into an external, transactive memory – the internet.

Considered together, these concepts collectively represent a stark contrast between what we know about learning and the reality of what happens in classrooms across the world. The typical model remains one of a teacher planning what learning they intend the learner to acquire. In the better classrooms this might be arranged so that the children ‘discover’ this for themselves and in others, it will be imparted upon the learners, some of whom will retain it, others of whom will forget it, and plenty who will never understand it at all. What is clear from the opinions of those I have quoted and the many professionals working in education who would agree with them, is that continuing along this path is no longer an option.

A fundamental shift in thinking is required the construction of curricula to a founding principle of Learners becoming participants in a dynamic and instantly changing world.

London became the focus of national media attention last summer when the city was besieged by rioters for several days. Blame was spread amply around but there was a common thread of the disenfranchisement of young people.

What is becoming ever clearer is that young people will not simply sit in our classrooms and receive our teaching. They have grown up in a world that they are able to shape and mould through the power of technology and the freedoms afforded to them by modern values. Young people reject and will continue to reject outdated ‘legacy systems’ and why shouldn’t they? Curricula should be founded on them as respected contributors to society not empty vessels that ought to receive the ‘wisdom’ of others. They should be built on the assumption that knowledge is cheap and can be obtained freely and easily. The role of the teacher could be that of a magnifying glass, focusing the thoughts and passions of a young person and exposing things to them that they might not yet have noticed or found. In this model learning becomes powerful, meaningful and young people in our education systems are empowered, not disenfranchised.

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