As we continue to have conversations around change with the 800 or so practitioners were working with in PLP, I continue to be struck by the frustration I’m feeling at the seeming separation between teaching and learning. I know that this isn’t new; I’ve been writing about teachers’ difficulties with being learners first here for a long time. When presented with the concept of building learning networks for themselves through the use of social learning tools, of making connections with other learners around the world who share their passions, many just cannot seem to break through the teacher lens and be “selfish” about it, to make it a personal shift before making a professional shift in the classroom. We want to teach with these tools first, many times at the expense, it seems, of making any real change in the way we see that learning interaction for our students because we don’t experience that change for ourselves.
More and more, though, as I look at my own kids and try to make sense what’s going to make them successful, I care less and less about a particular teacher’s content expertise and more about whether that person is a master learner, one from whom Tess or Tucker can get the skills and literacies to make sense of learning in every context, new and old. What I want are master learners, not master teachers, learners who see my kids as their apprentices for learning. Before public schooling, apprenticeship learning was the way kids were educated. They learned a trade or a skill from masters. When we moved to compulsory schooling, kids began to learn not from master doers so much as from master knowers, because we decided there were certain things that every child needed to know in order to be “educated.” And we looked for adults who could impart that knowledge, who could teach it in ways that every child could learn it.
My sense is that we need to rethink the role of those adults once again, and that we’re coming full circle. George Siemens had a great post last week about “Teaching in Social and Technological Networks” and he asked the same question that we had asked at Educon: What is the role of the teacher? It changes:
Simply: social and technological networks subvert the classroom-based role of the teacher. Networks thin classroom walls. Experts are no longer â€œout thereâ€ or â€œover thereâ€. Skype brings anyone, from anywhere, into a classroom. Students are not confined to interacting with only the ideas of a researcher or theorist. Instead, a student can interact directly with researchers through Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and listservs. The largely unitary voice of the traditional teacher is fragmented by the limitless conversation opportunities available in networks. When learners have control of the tools of conversation, they also control the conversations in which they choose to engage.
George goes on to suggest a totally different way of thinking about “teaching” one where “instead of controlling a classroom, a teacher now influences or shapes a network.” And he discusses seven different roles that teachers will play, all of which are worth the read. The one that sticks out for me at least is the role of modelling, where he writes:
Modelling has its roots in apprenticeship. Learning is a multi-faceted process, involving cognitive, social, and emotional dimensions. Knowledge is similarly multi-faceted, involving declarative, procedural, and academic dimensions. It is unreasonable to expect a class environment to capture the richness of these dimensions. Apprenticeship learning models are among the most effective in attending to the full breadth of learning. Apprenticeship is concerned with more than cognition and knowledge (to know about) â€“ it also addresses the process of becoming a carpenter, plumber, or physician.
But I would argue it goes further than that, that apprenticeship for every student in our classrooms these days is not so much grounded in a trade or a profession as much as it is grounded in the process of becoming a learner. Chris Lehmann likes to say that we don’t teach subjects, we teach kids. And I’ll add to that: we teach kids to learn. We can’t teach kids to learn unless we are learners ourselves, and our understanding of learning has to encompass the rich, passion-based interactions that take place in these social learning spaces online. Sure, I expect my daughter’s science teacher to have some content expertise around science, no doubt. But more, I expect him to be able to show her how to learn more about science on her own, without him, to give her the mindset and the skills to create new science, not just know old science.
How we change that mindset in teachers is another story, however, and I know it has a lot to do with expectations, traditional definitions, outcomes, culture and a whole lot more. But we need to change it to more of what Zac Chase from SLA talks about in this snip I Jinged from the “What is Educon?” video posted by Joseph Conroy. (Apologies for the audio and the stupid pop up ads.)
We still need to be teachers, but kids need to see us learning at every turn, using traditional methods of experimentation as well as social technologies that more and more are going to be their personal classrooms. How do we make more of that happen?
Anne V says
I love the idea of Teachers as master learners and students as apprentices. I would rather teach students how to figure it out, rather than how to do it. I went home from several classes in college, sure I knew “how to do it” and then would get stuck, unable to figure it out. (accounting was my bane)
I also enjoy thw idea of seeing the students as the apprentices and the teachers as master learners. I have found it much easier to sit and listen thinking the idea sounded wonderful, but often fail at delivering in my own classroom setting. I am a high school special education teacher and teach science and english. I think the nature of what you are teaching also contributes to how difficult it is to teach with this concept in mind. I find it much easier to be the master learner in my science classroom, but I find it more difficult to be the master learner in my english classroom.
Bill Ivey says
I know I’m always talking about democratic classrooms, but when students pursue their own questions, teachers are quite frequently learning right along with them. If a kid asks me a question and I say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out,” that’s a totally different dynamic than me smiling and saying “Look it up.”
William Stites says
On of the things we looked at to change the role of the teacher was the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” model when we did our professional development at The Montclair Kimberley Academy (http://www.mka.org) last summer. This helped us show the teachers how they can empower the student more and by using different social media based and technical tools they can collaborate with, share and learn with others both inside and outside of the class.
Also, there recently was also a really good panel discussion at the “>edSocialMedia Summit in early February about this the future of teaching and the teacher. You can see it here: http://www.edsocialmedia.com/2010/02/edsocialmedia-summit-panel-discussion-what-is-the-future-of-teaching/
Carolyn Foote says
Obviously there are so many avenues to that path, but it’s an interesting concept.
One of the things I found the most hopeful at Educon 2.0 was hearing students say at the end of the weekend that they never knew people thought so much about teaching/education. An experience like that allowed students to shift their views of what teachers do. I think it reflects that not only is there a need for a shift in teachers’ understanding, but there is a need to provide opportunities for students to get that “aha” moment about us as learners.
Lots to think about here.
Kathy Donovan says
Great post, and I have to say that coming in from outside education in 2004 and I became absorbed in the process I thought the same thing : “never knew people thought so much about teaching/education: Shame on me!
I have come to a similar conclusion some time ago. I am a big fan and proponent of apprenticeship. That’s why I want my son (who is only 5) to have opportunities to be a helper (read “apprentice”) cleaning up after horses, and doing gardening and doing all kinds of things that require him to work along side masters of all kinds. Teachers complain so much about being more of a baby-sitter than a teacher – and they have every right to, or at least, every reason to. But learn along with kids and discover knowledge together, and – poof! – learning happens. I made a paper plane – didn’t know this wasn’t a proper school behavior on my part, oops – and the next time a student came to me with two books about making paper planes!
I do professional development, and I often struggle with a concept of teaching kids when you can’t quite justify what is it that you teach kids to do. My son is learning about pennies in Kindergarten… Oh-kay… He can talk a mile a minute about volcanoes, and raising seals, and asks questions about God and death and such… But he is learning about pennies… Oh, and he is supposed to pay more attention in class – really? I am not motivated enough to address this complaint.
Fortunately, at this point we can afford things outside school – what about those who can’t? The gap is wide.
Jason Stein says
The idea of apprenticeship is excellent, but the practice is lacking. Where do we find masters who are willing to apprentice in all of these fields? A school is an inclusive organization. At least in my jurisdiction, any student can (nay must) go to school. Will that inclusivity be transferred to the new apprenticeship world? Where do students go if no one will take them as apprentices? Are they condemned to not learn? These are but a few of the questions I have about the educational utopia of apprenticeship. The idea of public schooling addresses a couple of issues in our society, that a fractured apprenticeship approach can not: first, they provide a common narrative for our society, so that we can at some level ensure that our beliefs are passed to the next generation; second, and this is a new function, they provide a place for children while parents are working (in some sense we are glorified babysitters). I can’t see apprenticeship fulfilling either of these functions. The first is essential to a democratic society. I would be worried if my children were allowed to forego Social Studies, because they really like math and that’s what they want to learn about.
The public school is where we provide direct interaction with “experts” or at least as close to experts as are willing to work with our youth. Interacting directly with students is the job of the teacher and it happens face to face. When
they are not interacting directly. The communication is being mediated. Working in mediated communication is much more dangerous then face to face communication. In face to face communication, they primary danger is that one party is lying to the other, or maybe just tainting the truth. In a mediated medium (like Twitter, blogs, etc.) even when both parties are speaking truth, a third party can manipulate the communication to suit their agenda. The good will of each party may be corrupted by an unknown third party. We should work to avoid this at all costs.
dave rockwell says
>>Where do we find masters who are willing to apprentice in all of these fields?
There are millions of them, unemployed from industry, a lot of them in late 50’s early 60’s near retirement age but with plenty to contribute. A lot of high tech jobs left the country as did mine. When I went into teaching, the culture shock was horrific. Not only can you get find the bodies there, but diversifying the school staffs in this way will accelerate change. In my first school the time taken from learning and given to pure rubbish was astounding, both at the level of student growth and also at the level of teacher productivity.
This topic is 100% right on target. Technology is key also. When kids use Web 2.0 technologies to publish, they draw in their parents, siblings and often become teachers-learners themselves. I was teaching an underserved population. When the content is enabled by open source or free, the effect has more chance to be viral.
Forget licensing, certification and all the drivel forced into the system by the business-of-edu-establishment. Bring them in as facilitators, coordinators, mentors, tutors, readers, whatever. Pay them dirt, they won’t care because their families are already raised and they just want to be useful and give back a little.
This is what I am currently working on in the district I am in. We are opening a school-within-a-school for 150 students. (It is kind of our answer to charters) I am assigned to develop a strong mentorship program with the community. I am working with businesses, but also am working to draw in our retired people. I believe what better mentors than those that have the wisdom from having worked for so many years? If you know of districts that are doing something similar, can you link me to them?
John Batey says
If I were going to propose a model, Iâ€™d probably not use the master-apprentice model, rather Iâ€™d view the teacher more as team captain and the students more as team members and the enterprise as more of a collaborationâ€”more a team effort than an apprenticeship. (Disclosure: I spent ten years teaching adult learners in college programs, but I think the team model also works for other learning situations). Particularly in the areas of technology, the web, and online learning few, if any, of us are mastersâ€”at least not in the traditional senseâ€”but we are professionals, and much like professional athletes, we are honing our craft, studying and improving our performance, studying the competition (which I view as those things that compete for studentsâ€™ attention), and listening to our team members. We lead by example, and we lead from the field of play; that is, we are part of the action and our students can see that we are engaged in learning, just as we expect them to be engaged in learning.
Shelly Blake-Plock says
I like the idea of the experts being “in here”.
I’ve thought about it for a longtime in terms of getting ‘beyond’ the classroom walls, but I think the visual of experts and poets and scientists and visionaries being ‘here’ with you where-ever you are all the time is much more comforting.
It obviously suggests a future that is mobile and ‘available’. The nuanced fear that many folks have is that this availability will make certain types of jobs unnecessary. But with regard to teachers, I think if you primarily consider what you do a ‘job’ to begin with, you are already making yourself unnecessary.
Anne Shillolo says
In my high school of 1100 kids there was only one music teacher and he was likely the most popular person in the building. He taught music all day, ran a concert band, a large orchestra and presented a large Broadway-style musical with pit orchestra every spring. Lots of early mornings and late nights at school… In his private life, he was a good dad to his kids, who we knew, played first clarinet in the Windsor Symphony, directed the orchestra for the Windsor Light Opera and conducted the International Youth Symphony (Windsor/Detroit). He was open, friendly, honest and never had tantrums like other music teachers I encountered. I think it is helpful to look at master teacher/learners in arts or technical fields as models. What can I do as a middle school English and IT teacher that not only keeps me learning and enthused, but shows my students that I am involved, as they are, in the issues of the day in and out of the classroom. And enjoying this process.
John Patten says
I’ve been thinking about these same types of ideas (have a presentation germinating in head for future), but looking more holistic as to what kind of message a teacher-learner sends to students and the reaction, conscious or unconscious, the student has as a result. In learning communication is key. But communication seems to only have value if the target of that communication perceives VALUE in the messenger. Everything we do in education, from what we say and model to the environment we work in creates a plus or minus in the head of a learner for the VALUE of the “teacher” by the individual student learner…that was mouthful! By modeling our own learning as teacher-learners, I feel we validate our student-learners, thus generating more plus value in the heads of our students for what we communicate (“teach”). Essentially adding more value in the eyes of our student-learners and thus making us more effective as communicators/teachers.
Aron Solomon - THINK Global School says
This is an excellent piece – many thanks for posting it.
The idea of “teacher as facilitator” isn’t a new one but it’s through a contemporary and streamlined application that teachers are able to bridge the traditional gaps you discuss and become truly active, engaged participants in teaching and learning.
That’s what we’re building at THINK Global School – an environment where the agile, global and mobile nature of the TGS experience, and the presence of students and teachers who are mission-appropriate for us, create real synergies for every individual, all of whom can evolve as learners.
As mentioned in the second comment to your blog entry, this becomes a fundamentally democratic classroom and one in which the above-referenced personal and professional shift by teachers is not only encouraged but is, more importantly, holistic.
I was pretty blown away to have this post come across my screen today after just yesterday reading Arne Duncan’s recent speech at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Conference and coming to the absolute same conclusion: Teachers need to be taught to learn, not just taught to teach.
Duncan’s speech is about revamping our teacher prep programs. As a recent graduate myself, reflecting on what I learned in my Masters’ Program vs. in my years as a student teacher, I have come to the conclusion that really, everything good I know about teaching I learned from working with good teachers. I think teacher prep programs should be focused less on teaching teachers how to be decent teachers right away, and focused more on providing teachers with the tools they will need to maintain a level of excellence in their craft 5, 10, 25 years down the road. This means teaching teachers how to stay up to date on current best practice, how to learn from students and adapt teaching to reflect student needs and trends, how to work closely and collaboratively with colleagues. I think if we train teachers to keep these goals at the forefront of their minds, over time the education system will adapt and come to better reflect the core values of an increasing number of educators.
I really enjoyed this post and it got me thinking about myself as an educator and learner. I recently started a class for my masters and through this class I have realized my new found love of learning. I guess in middle school and high school and even some of the time in college, I just went through the motions. I never really enjoyed learning, but did what I had to to get the grade. It is my goal as an educator to do all that I can to teacher my students how to learn and to enjoy learning.
There are so many resources out there for educators if we just take the time to look and talk to others. As educators, it is our job to not only teach curriculum, but teach students how the skills we teach can be useful in their lives. We must be learners along with our students to share in the acquisition of knowledge.
Jeff Yearout says
Your mention of “going through the motions” strikes home with me, Amanda. I never had a problem enjoying learning, but I certainly did not always enjoy school. That phrase is used by Marc Prensky in “Engage Me Or Enrage Me” which really illustrates the issue has less to with technology and more to do with pedagogy and practice in the classroom. Though it is tough with the high focus on testing, I really try to have my class be more about questions than answers. But with middle schoolers, that can be tough, for often they just want the answers! The occasions where I do break through, though, are well worth it.
I too am in a master’s program, all online, and fully intend to maintain the PLN spark that it has generated.
Frank LaBanca says
In situated cognition learning theory, the concept of cognitive apprenticeships has been an inspiration for me as a science teacher — learning to think like the practitioner. So a science student needs to learn to act like a scientist – with those necessary skills and dispositions. We can use content as the vehicle to advance the skills within the science domain: problem finding and solving, oral and written communication, critical thinking, creativity, etc.
I think the key factor for teachers is recognizing that knowledge of students is constructed, not didactically delivered and received. Concepts and big ideas are what is important.
This idea seems to permeate what I think about often. I have quite a few posts about situated cognition here that I’ve written.
Carl Anderson says
No one needs to be taught “to learn.” Learning is what we do, it is an inherent characteristic of being human and perhaps it is even an inherent characteristic of being a life form. We all learn all the time, we don’t need a teacher to teach us “to learn.” We need teachers to help guide our learning and discover new and effective “ways to learn.” It has always bugged me when I hear teachers say their role is to create “lifelong learners.” We don’t need a teacher for that role, in fact, if our students left us and were not “lifelong learners” wouldn’t it mean that they suffered some awful fate? If there is something we need to be teaching pre-service teachers it is metacognitive coaching so they can help students find their most effective learning strategies.
Jason Stein says
You make an excellent point Carl. Teachers exist (at least currently) to help students learn things they might not otherwise learn, either because the student is not interested of because the student is not inclined. Teachers are needed in a well informed society so that a broad base of education is maintained, not so students can pursue their own personal educational agenda. People naturally do that anyways.
No one needs to be taught to learn per se, but I do think there is value in teaching people HOW to learn most effectively. As an educator, it is valuable for me to have learned how to access and interpret current education research so that I can continue to inform my teaching over the long term. Students can be taught to use books, computers, manipulatives etc. to enhance and heighten their learning and understanding.
Damianne President says
I worry sometimes whether or not we kill some of our students’ innate desire/ability to learn. As I was synthesizing my understanding of the ideas in a conference that I attended this weekend, I kept thinking of the times that I took away a student’s voice because his idea wasn’t the one I was looking for at the time. I’m thinking about the power of listening to children to acknowledge the fact that the learning that they do independent of the goals of a lesson are as important, if not more important than any other learning that happens in the classroom.
Maria Urquidi says
I totally agree with the basic premise of this post and would like to add another important aspect of how teachers can role model optimal learning behavior: embracing mistakes and not knowing. That may be one of the hardest things for a teacher who thinks he/she is the authority figure who SHOULD know “everything” – but is one of the most important “skills” for a learner. Carol Dweck’s work on the importance of one’s mindset could apply here as well; one has to be comfortable with public failure in order to learn.
Damianne President says
I’ve just ordered Mindset! I’m looking forward to reading it.
I also believe that teachers are always learning along with the students. This is especially true today as seasoned teachers introduce technology into their classrooms. I feel sorry for the students where the teacher refuses to even attempt to bring technology into their lessons. Teachers that extend their learning with continuing education classes (as required by my state)are the ones that continue to be challenged and remain excited about teaching. The students respond and know when their teacher is excited about learning, not only for what they can share with their students but also for what they learn themselves.
dave rockwell says
It happened early in my teaching that a student showed me some splendid thing about the software we were using, something I was completely unaware of that would be very valuable. Feeling very perky that day, I let go with an overly dramatic “That’s why I Love this job, always learning stuff!” , and when I say overly dramatic, picture Martin Short doing it. It must have made a big impression on the kid, because he took a lot of pride throughout the year in sharing cool observations about whatever we were learning. It became kind of a routine, something that happened maybe 2-4 times a week and I think it really did change the tone. I really was co-learner, teacher as guide and it became much more comfortable and pleasurable and productive.
I agree with what you say about master learners and apprentices. I have been favoring this approach for some time now, but without such a great label. However, I have also been struggling with the other side of the coin – content. I am lucky in that I teach English, which is more about skills and less about content, but there are so many subjects out there that are content heavy. How do we balance content learning with this apprentice model? Is content important anymore? Are we sacrificing content to create independent thinkers? While I love the shift that is happening in education, I’m just struggling with the move away from content.
Itâ€™s critical that we teachers recognize that our job is not simply a matter of conveying information, but of teaching process. We need to provide students with guidelines for how to make meaning and then give them adequate opportunity to practice their newfound skills under supervision in order to ensure that they are internalizing the process. The English/Language Arts department in my district uses the gradual release of responsibility model (as William mentioned above), which provides a system of teacher modeling and collaborative, guided student practice. The process removes the teacher from the limelight and requires that the bulk of the learning be student-driven. The key to its effectiveness, however, requires two elements: a clear, strong delivery of the teacher model (including modeling of the thinking that attends the process) and carefully monitored student practice.
Once students understand the process, they can apply it to any reading (in theory, at least). Iâ€™ve found that children struggle most when my model is not sufficiently clearâ€”and itâ€™s difficult to anticipate where the disconnect between teacher and student understanding might occur. Another roadblock to comprehension occurs when the teacher model is too smooth; if it appears that I do not have to work very hard to discover the answer, then students expect to gain the same results with minimal effort. Iâ€™ve found that it can be very effective for me to work through a process â€œcoldâ€; allowing my students to see me struggle to create meaning using a given process shows them that it IS work (even for the so-called expert) and that they should expect to grapple with the process as well.
Lynne Thompson says
this is a great post and the apprentice idea of modelling resonates with me. It strikes me that for a teacher to be a “Master Learner” and engage students in a different way, the teacher needs to be aware of their ego and how they need to set it aside. Perhaps good teachers always do this, but it becomes even more imperative as we shift into this new collaborative world. The teacher has to set their ego aside, and join their students as inquisitive learners who model how you find what you need to learn, how you acquire skills when you need them, not how they know everything already. I hate to be ageist, but as the more traditional teachers retire, I think we might see a shift like this.
amanda obrien says
The master/apprentice relationship suggests the capacity to inspire and a willingness to learn, yet both in the absence of all ego. I like this concept very much. It resonates with the hands on connection that an apprentice gets with his master. I’d like to think that I will be able to create that kind of connection. There is certainly a different look in a student’s eye when he realizes that you are genuinely there to help him succeed. Learning requires trust, and a willingness to take risks. You have to be prepared to make something and put it out there and say – see, here is my work! Only a very safe learning environment allows for such courage. Students will find a million ways to deflect a teacher’s judgement – resentment, apathy, hosility. Masters and apprentices are on the same team. They would often work together to produce works of art for competition. And to qualify the apprentice has to produce his one fine work – his masterpiece, thus he becomes the master. Its a great analogy, inspiring, honest and insightful. Thanks Zac!