In recent semesters, the list of required books in my graduate and undergraduate Edtech for Educators courses have become smaller and smaller, given all the free resources available on the Web. But until this semester (when I’m trying no purchased texts at all), Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape has consistently remained on my list. In this book, Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Lee Crockett focus on re-imagining education in a way that’s essential to helping prepare today’s youth to thrive in the 21st century. If you haven’t read it and care about kids and their futures, I highly suggest that you do.
An online preview of some of the book’s key concepts can be found in Jukes, McCain, and this time Frank S. Kelly’s “No More Cookie Cutter High Schools.” Their list of “Guiding Principles for Creating a New Vision of Schooling” is, in my humble opinion, simultaneously spot-on and daunting:
- Start by looking at kids and learning*
- Learning must prepare students for a world of constant change*
- Learning must focus on 21st century thinking skills*
- Learning must include 21st century fluency skills *
- Learning must reflect the new digital reality*
- Learning must be interdisciplinary*
- Learning must be shaped for the individual*
- Learning must engage 21st century digital kids*
- Learning must be connected to the outside world *
- Learning opportunities should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week*
- Time should be flexible, not learning*
- Students should assume responsibility for their own learning *
- Every student should have a close working relationship with at least one adult *
- Students should have their own personal place to work*
- Assessment must encompass skills of knowledge and higher order thinking *
- Every student must be prepared for some form of post-secondary studies *
- The configuration of spaces within the school building must be highly flexible*
*Indicates that which is not currently being realized in most schools today
As you will notice, I have asterisked those items that are not currently being realized in most schools today. And while some of the list items (such as the flexibility of spatial configurations in schools and providing students with personal workspaces) might seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, most others seem rather urgent. And yet, every single item is asterisked.
Of course, there may be a few teachers in schools here and there – the outliers and innovators — who are doing some of these things. And you will definitely see more of this in the more affluent schools. But we all know that in order for educators to help prepare today’s youth to thrive in the 21st century, a lot of these things need to happen — soon and on a wide scale.
One key obstacle to these changes seems to be school culture common to many U.S. public schools today. In NY State at least, all of our resources, attention, and “innovation” efforts currently seem to be focused on the new Common Core state assessments (and of course, associated teacher and school accountability measures). Despite the few innovators who may be on the team, this focus on outcomes and accountability sends a message that undermines the spirit of innovation that today’s kids desperately need to have guide their learning.
Educators know this, of course. But at the end of the day, there is simply no time or energy or money left.
What to do? While I don’t have the answer to this million-dollar question, I can offer the observation that the schools that make me most hopeful for some kind of light at the end of this assessment tunnel are those where administrators have empowered teachers as professionals. Schools where teachers have been given the authority to serve as curriculum leaders, where teams of teachers collaborate to make decisions about the curriculum in light of new state and federal mandates (instead of taking direction from the top down) — these are the schools where I see the most creativity and energy among teachers, and not surprisingly, among their students, too.
When administrators treat teachers as experts, trusting teachers to solve the current dilemma given their knowledge of kids, subject matter, and pedagogy, teachers are called upon to utilize some of same types of creativity and problem-solving skills that we are looking for them to foster in children.
This has nothing to do with technology or 21st century skills, of course. I focus on this necessary shift in school culture because I think that the order is taller than even Jukes, McCain, Crockett and Kelly make it out to be. Only when teachers’ own learning communities look more like the those we want to see in 21st-century “classrooms” will teachers be able to help schools manifest a new vision of schooling for the 21st century. Only then will they be able to find creative ways to integrate the many digital resources and experts currently in their midst as resources for realizing the solution.