Patti Grayson is a 3rd grade teacher at Virginia’s Hampton Roads Academy and a member of her school’s digital learning leadership team. She blogs at Patti’s Ponderings. In 2011-12, she’s looping with her 3rd graders into 4th.
I have the joy of spending every day with an energetic, fun, curious group of 20 third graders. They ask great questions and are truly excited about learning. In fact, sometimes it feels like they are 9 going on 29. They seem to enjoy playing “Stump the Teacher,” and I’m ok with that! They understand that many days I’m going to be learning new things right along with them.
Every now and then, I try to imagine what the world will be like when these little guys graduate from college in 2025. When I look at the advances we’ve made in the last dozen years, it’s hard to fathom where we’ll be in another dozen.
The realization that we have absolutely no idea what kind of world these children will find as they enter adulthood means we can only guess at what knowledge and skills will be important. And yet I have a role in preparing them for this world of tomorrow. This version of “Stump the Teacher” is not fun at all . . .
What does it mean to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century?
When I was growing up and struggling through pre-calculus, I asked the question all students ask – “Why do I have to know this? When will I ever use it?” One of my parents’ favorite replies was that it would help make me a “well-rounded individual.” This, of course, was very important for receptions and cocktail parties; I must be prepared to look and sound articulate. Educated. Well, I’ve never really found a need to discuss pre-calculus at a dinner party, and I’ve never used it in my career. But in principle I do understand the value of being educated.
Here’s the dilemma: With the world changing so rapidly, being educated takes on new meaning. First of all, I think even the word “educated” is outdated. It conveys the message that if you complete a certain number of steps or reach a certain level in the system of diplomas and degrees, you can relax and make a living from what you know. Not so today â€” the demand to master new knowledge and skills is neverending. If you want to be successful, you never finish your education.
So my mission (and I choose to accept it) is not to educate students, but to cultivate learners.
I don’t need to spend precious classroom hours cramming disconnected facts into kids who will then memorize them, regurgitate them, and promptly forget them before the year is through. I need to build on kids’ innate curiosity and excitement for new knowledge. But I’m realistic. I know I’m not going to get kids hungry for deeper understanding with topics that have no interest or relevance for them.
I can help pique interest by presenting the material in a creative way. I can create challenging and intriguing problems that require basic math and literacy skills to solve, and show kids why knowing certain material or possessing certain skills is valuable. But that’s not enough. I’ve got to give students time to pursue learning in the areas that interest them NOW.
The era of “well-roundedness” is quickly passing
Is the connected world too vast and full of information to develop “well-rounded” individuals anymore? I suspect it is. The availability of knowledge is unlimited. What combination of this knowledge would now form “well-roundedness”? (If you have an answer, please share here in the comments. I’d love some lively debate!)
If we concentrate on fostering curiosity and exploration in the early grades, and guide students to find joy in learning and discovery through their passions and interests, then as those interests change (and the world changes), they will possess the tools and insight to continue to seek learning opportunities. If my 3rd graders graduate as passionate learners and innovative problem solvers, they will be an asset in the future – no matter what that future may bring.
As adults we make our own decisions about what to learn on an ongoing basis. We have only so much time, money, and energy. We assess each learning opportunity and ask ourselves: Is this something I really want to know? If we want to lead students to define their passions at an earlier age, at what point do we allow them to start making these learning choices? With my guidance I know my 3rd graders are ready to benefit from options about the information they want to pursue.
Many folks think the education reform movement is largely about technology, but it’s much bigger than that. With the above questions in mind, it becomes clear that the framework of education must change so that we are much more intentional about creating “lifelong learners” who leverage the technologies with passion and purpose.
If I’ve done my job and helped prepare my third graders for the future, they won’t remember that I taught them long division (even though I did). They’ll remember me as the teacher who opened the world to them â€” who encouraged them to seek learning with tremendous enthusiasm and to relish the deeper understanding they gain as a result.
[Image from Personalized Graduate Gifts]
Latest posts by Patti Grayson (see all)
- Rethinking Content in the Digital Age - September 4, 2012
- Escape to Summer Reading - June 12, 2012
- Our Skype Adventures: Creating Connected Learners in a Global Classroom - May 29, 2012
You begin a great conversation!!!! I LOVE the idea that teachers job is not to educate students but cultivate learners. All of us should never be too old to learn!
Much of my experience working with teachers is that they have forgotten how important constant learning is for their profession and their personal growth. I LOVE the idea that the shift in education is not about technology but about learning. YES!
My question to you is how do you get the teacher who has been using the same purple ditto for the last 10 years to understand that their students do indeed learn differently?
Thanks for the comment! I’ve wondered… In almost any other field, people risk losing their jobs if they don’t stay ahead of new technologies and developments. Why not in education?
You raise a good question. It is awfully hard to get some teachers to acknowledge that those purple dittos and faded overhead transparencies MUST GO. We may have to take baby steps, but teachers as well as students must be held accountable. We required our faculty to take some baby steps this year, and made sure we had a team of folks ready to support and encourage them.
The students can lead the way if we will let them. Mine are excited to try new things, even if they know I am learning right along with them. If you have a teacher that is bringing innovation to the classroom, can you have your resistant teacher observe them and see the difference in the classroom atmosphere? It’s contagious!
Good point, Patti. The openness lies in that teacher being able to learn from a student, thus modeling lifelong learning. This is so essential for educators today. But I am preaching to the choir.
So … the “push” comes from leadership? The “requiredness” of learning something new. Hmmmmm. I understand the essential part of that .. but if educators are life long learners .. ya know the drill.
I enjoyed Patti’s reflection on her own motivation to get with 21st century teaching and learning ideas – in a recent post at her blog. After some pondering 8^)= she identified three factors that revved up her motivational engine. It’s interesting that all three involve community in some way — the support of others who are (as a teacher friend once put it to me) “restless to improve” and eager to have us join in. So perhaps the answer has something to do with introducing folks to a welcoming community of professional learners?
Here’s that post of Patti’s –
I wonder if the new meaning of “well-rounded” would be “well-connected”? Is the new “well-roundedness” really about connectivity (or connectivism), having a network of fellow learners and the resources, tools, and skills to find and be findable. Love the post.
M.E. – I love it. 🙂 I would definitely much rather be “well-connected” than “well-rounded” (I’m actually plenty round as it is!!) 😉 Thanks!
You asked about the 21st century learning skills. My daughter’s school is part of the New Technology consortium and they identify these skills as: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and innovation, citizenship, information literacy, technological literacy, and self direction.
I think the hardest skill to develop for high schoolers coming from the current system (especially the focus on testing) is self direction. Since the school is all project based, students need to learn how to plan out their work and follow through, get assignments in on time, look for information outside of what they have been given, etc…
You might want to take a look at their description of the skills (http://techvalleyhigh.org/Learning/21rst_Century_skills.html).
I agree with Sr. Gerilyn. I love your description of moving from “education” to “cultivators of learners.”
Thanks for the link! I love that list of skills. I can believe that self-direction might be the hardest to develop. We’ve been spoon-feeding for so long, it’s no wonder…
I enjoyed reading your blog post. I also teach third grade students and grappled with the same question of how to best attempt to prepare them for a future that we can no even begin to imagine.
I agree that students not only need to learn to use technology but need to develop a spirit of inquiry and problem solving. Focusing only on implementing the use of technology is not effective because the current “new” technology will be so outdated by the time our students need to enter the work force. I am reminded of this whenever a grammar worksheet on the prefix “re” talks about “rewinding” the video tape. Most of my students have only ever known DVDs.
In reading some of the other comments I would agree that a new model of professional development needs to occur if we are to help our students to learn to become life-long learners, they should be able to look at us for inspiration. Forced professional development and faculty meetings will not achieve this goal. I feel that by seeking out other professionals through blogs like this one will be benefical to me in my quest to find answers to the questions I face daily as an educator.
How about “fostering curiosity and exploration” in all grades so that everyone becomes a lifelong learner?
Tricia – I think you’re right… PLP was invaluable to me in teaching me how to build a PLN. They’ve given me a gift of continued learning, as I reach out and listen to the advice and experience of others. Speaking of which, if you tweet or have a blog, let me know! Would love to hear of your experiences in 3rd grade.
I think fostering that natural curiosity and desire to explore is essential. But we must follow up by guiding them to learn how best to find their own answers and solutions. Then we just turn them loose and watch them soar… 🙂