The learning spectrum is broad: On one end, there’s the student who loves a challenge; at the other exists one who consistently doubts his or her ability to successfully complete that challenge—and there are countless other types of students in between. Whether students are best suited to a traditional lecture, independent reading, or working with peers in a more visual environment, it’s well known that no two learn in the same manner.
Unfortunately, the way educators teach is not conducive to the different ways students learn. While schools traditionally measure success on the product of learning (i.e., results from standardized tests, school rankings, and percentiles), they often neglect the process. As it stands, students are continuously monitored and measured via state-issued tests and assessments that focus on how well they can repeat information verbatim. This learning method does little to teach children important life skills like collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, and often, students forget the information they learned faster than teachers can say, “Pencils down.”
Should educators keep trudging through “product”-based education, disregarding children’s natural abilities to learn, or shift to a more formative learning process to help students excel in their chosen field of study?
Learning is a journey, not a destination: It’s time to treat it as such
Differentiated instruction is one solution to this problem, but it is impractical to implement at scale; school districts and educators face major roadblocks in terms of time and cost required. This leaves educators using a teach-to-the-middle strategy, resulting in holding some students back from reaching their potential and others struggling to keep up. While educators often grade students based on how well they’ve synthesized and memorized information, the innate process of learning and curiosity is far more important to help students succeed.
Changing the status quo
How do we foster change in such an ingrained legacy system of education? The best place to start is at the classroom level, where teachers can begin to shift their instructional practice and see real-time feedback on successes or opportunities for improvement. Instead of teaching the same lesson plan to an entire class, educators should focus on the 5 Cs—collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical and computational thinking—to foster greater learning.
The 5 Cs explained:
- Collaboration. Educators can shift to a more collaborative approach in which students can ask each other questions and engage with one another. Class lectures often don’t allow students to work together in real time, but personalized, interactive lessons allow students to collaborate and ask each other questions in real time without fear of disrupting the lesson for others.
- Communication. Students become better communicators and independent learners in classes that focus on the education journey in lieu of end-of-course exams. Instead of regurgitating facts learned in class, students have more room to ask questions and discuss freely.
- Creativity. Most lesson plans allow only one right answer. While traditional classes may lack the opportunity for students to create projects vastly different from one another, coding classes, for example, offer each student the change to create unique code.
- Critical and computational thinking. Most lessons don’t allow students to use logic to problem solve or recognize patterns in subjects such as math or science. STEM-focused courses can build critical and computational thinking by using trial-and-error and deductive-reasoning skills to carry out a solution. In coding, students learn how to make best inferences and how to formulate and analyze code to get to an intended outcome.
Students learn best through the 5 Cs. They are more apt to apply soft skills not only during class, but outside school walls as well. Innovative practices such as project-, problem-, or challenge-based learning aids in the development of these skills, as students work together on solving real-world problems in lieu of isolated learning and monotonous lectures. An emphasis on social and emotional learning involves more collaboration (whether between educator and student or student and peers) in the classroom and showcases how learning does not simply entail a focus on product.
This shift from product to process-focused will not happen overnight; it will take much trial and error for educators to figure out how to best teach to their students’ needs. While coding classes represent a strong start to a new-age teaching revolution, it may take time for more collaborative, creative teaching methods to seep into other K-12 subjects. Education is a journey, and to achieve it, educators must embrace a road less traveled.