Sunday, February 26, 2017

In Pursuit of a Learning-Oriented Classroom

About fifteen years' ago, while interviewing for a teaching position, the principal asked, "Describe your classroom management strategy."

I gave a relatively standard answer, "Good lessons are the key to maintaining a well-run classroom. A lesson that is engaging and well-planned will keep students busy and on-task, meaning classroom management won't be a problem."

Indeed, engaged students tend not to disrupt learning. But, in all honesty, my answer reflected a traditional work-oriented classroom where I confused compliance and on-task behavior with true engagement and meaningful learning. Sadly this was the prevalent approach to teaching and learning. Under pressure conditions, teachers used controlling practices that led to passive student learning. Meaningful learning took a backseat to maintaining order.

Thinking was a bonus add-on in the work-oriented classroom. We should strive or learning-oriented classrooms where the focus shifts from being on-task and looking smart to BECOMING smart. Doing so means taking risks and relinquishing control; embracing chaos and vulnerability.

Work-Oriented Classroom
Learning-Oriented Culture
Student errors and mistakes should be avoided as they indicate incompetence on behalf of the teacher and students.  
Mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and grow.
Learning is coercion-based.
Teachers listen to and act on the various opinions in the classroom.
Instruction follows a predetermined, mass-produced curriculum planning guide.
Give students the power to pursue their interests. Recognize the diverse needs and interests of students and make appropriate adjustments.
Students participate as passive learners
Students are appropriately challenged and are in control of how they spend their time.
The teacher maintains high-levels of order and control.
Encourage divergent thinking in students who drive their own learning by asking and seeking answers to their own questions.
Students learn through memorization and practice.
Meaningful, lifelong learning is chaotic and students must think about or act on ideas.
Assignments and projects are overly prescriptive and often presented as a checklist.
Assignments emphasize the learning that will occur and students are given freedom to choose how to learn and demonstrate their mastery.
Students learn in isolation.
Learning is a social endeavor.
Classroom tasks/assignments are broken down into 20-minute chunks.
Students are given time to wonder, to explore, and to dive deep into learning.

Humans have a natural curiosity to learn. Too often this curiosity is squashed in what Paulo Friere termed banking education where the teacher transmits information to students. As teachers we must assume responsibility for student learning by encouraging and increasing student autonomy and self-control, allowing our students to create, discover and explore. 

Please share how you create a learner-oriented culture. 

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