Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Teaching: A Reboot


I have been to countless hours of professional development in my 8 years as a teacher and one of the favorite clips for presenters to show is the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where an Economics teacher is delivering a mind numbingly boring lecture to a group of nearly comatose students.  It has been nearly 30 years since that scene was filmed, but it continues to be funny because almost everyone has been the victim of this style of teaching at one time or another.  In fact, 30 years ago, it was the standard.  Students sat in neat rows and jotted down notes as a teacher lectured from the front of the classroom.
Not anymore.  Research has shown that students will retain only 5% of information delivered to them in a lecture, 10% of what they read, 30% of what is demonstrated to them, 50% of what they discuss in a group, 75% of what they do, and 90% of what they teach to others.  Educators have responded to this information by developing new practices, practices that not only engage students, but make them active participants in the learning process.
One such practice is called inquiry based learning.  The basic premise of inquiry based learning is that, given a topic, students are able to not only generate their own questions, they are also able to use whatever tools (the internet, books, magazines, interviews with experts, etc) they have at their disposal to find answers to those questions, create a product, and present their product to their peers.  Not that the lecture has completely disappeared, but it is more a tool than an objective. In an inquiry based classroom, the teacher facilitates questioning, research, discussion, creation, and reflection.
It is exciting to imagine a classroom where students lead their own learning, where silence is replaced by active discussion and passive listening is replaced by self motivated discovery.   As I prepare for the coming school year, I think it is important to remember that every student can learn, in fact, every student wants to learn.  It is the teacher’s job to inspire curiosity and to give them the tools to explore their questions about their world.