Last week’s topic: In 100 words or less, describe the most important characteristics of 21st century instruction.
It is funny we still use the term “21st century” 15+ years into the century. I say this not to pick on the topic, but to show that we use because some are still teaching as if it were the 20th century…or 19th century in some cases. We would not need to distinguish if we were all teaching in the same century.
Though harsh as it may be, it is crucial to note these observations.
I recently went on a retreat with 130 ninth grade students to an area with no cell reception and no Internet connections. We told our students no cell phones, tablets, or computers were allowed. This is not something we would have told students in the 20th century or before. However, we have to distinguish now. Our students are different now. But, in many ways, we treat them the same. We judge them for doing things different. We dislike that they are not learning the same things as we did. We think they are being corrupted by the woes of technology. We don’t like that they share out personal information to others. We don’t like that they multi-task.
We are our parents.
I had another epiphany about these “21st century” children and their learning. If they were reading books as much as they are on their phones, would we have a problem with it? Both are isolationist activities. If we only have a problem with the technology, why do we dislike it so much? Is it just because of the tech? I hear my parents and others question why we don’t teach some of the skills they learned as children. To that point, I will ask – why don’t we also revolve around a farmer’s schedule? We don’t because the economy and lifestyles no longer call for it. How often will a student need to use some of the skills we are so greatly offended by that are not being taught? We get upset when we say “they can just look it up” as if looking something up is easy or a cop-out. So, we don’t teach students how to search. Instead, we continue to teach them skills that are irrelevant rather than the most important of them all: searching.
Though most teachers I talk to agree that students do not know how to search, I still see those same teachers asking students to research without providing any instruction. This is where we go wrong. We say, well kids today aren’t as competent. They don’t know some of the basic skills and they don’t find factual information. Is it the students’ fault they can’t find the information or is it our fault for not teaching it?
It’s easy to criticize each new generation as not being as strong, as smart, as fast, etc. as your generation. It’s even more easy to blame it on technology. But, are our students’ failures and successes entirely due to tech or to the fact that they are a new generation?
A teacher reminded me a few days ago that an average teenage brain has 2 million brain cells where an average 25 year old only has one million brain cells. This means their brains are firing twice as fast as a 25 year old. It means they are equipped to multi-task. They are wired to multi-task. We, however, are not. We must separate our learning styles from that of our students. When we do that, we can begin to teach students how to multi-task and search responsibly.
We cannot teach responsibility until we accept that we are no longer in the 20th century, the 19th century, or any other than the 21st century.
We need to accept while students need to learn responsibility. But, aren’t those they same skills we’ve always needed to learn? Yes.
We need to apply them to a world filled with tech, however.
What do you think is essential in instruction?