If we think of how some of the classrooms function in our country, we notice the tension between individual vs. group learning. On the one hand, common curricula mean that students are being exposed to the same information. On the other hand, common curricula can also mean that student creativity in learning is harder to encourage. And without taking us on a 150-year tour of educational history, two seemingly dichotomous positions, group learning that is seen as efficient vs. individual learning that is seen as inefficient, often collide as they fight for the purposes of K-12 classrooms. In reality, many classrooms employ both ways of teaching and learning.
Transforming Teaching and Learning
And the reason both ways of teaching are used side by side is that both are required in any successful educational program. Without a common curriculum, standards for teaching a subject cannot be met, and without individual learning, students have trouble engaging fully with a delivered curriculum. So the balance of teaching and the art it takes to implement a balanced approach to group vs. individual learning is to employ both types of teaching. The problem is that curricula are no longer standardized and the real need is to teach something that encourages students to be good learners of anything. Transforming teaching and learning will require an end to historical methods of schooling and the invention of new forms of schooling that would be better called schools of the future, or schools of future innovators.
Schools of Future Innovators
Think of these new schools as innovating groups of teachers and learners. Instead of being isolated, these schools are open to the business and civic community members around them. The real examples brought by outsiders become central to the curricula inside the school. Students are animated by the reality of the need for their learning, the authentic work that is needed to solve problems in real life and the feeling of engagement on important problems. Groups of students and teachers document their work and earn badges that represent their meeting standards of educational excellence. And in case you were thinking that this was just for high school age children, remember how helpful young children are at figuring out the latest in technology.
Some Examples of the Future
Future classrooms look different than today’s set of fixed rows of desks, perfect work on the walls, and lots of rules posted everywhere. Future classrooms look like the progress of student work shown with all of its warts and wrinkles, finished work that actually looks polished and reflective. Furniture is more mobile, easily re-arranged, and encourages new and innovative groupings of students. Teachers are not babysitters, hall monitors and behavior deans, but rather they ask what problems should be solved, they ask students what they might do differently, if there is a peer that they can reach out to for consultation, and should they review a previous lesson for guidance. Students should learn how to learn using creative choices, artistic expression, and multiple problem solving techniques. Student should grow to be powerful problem-solving resources for the future of our country.
In order to design future schools we need to be creative in education. Creativity and the arts are clear teaching and learning pathways to engagement, deeper learning and more fun. Future schools will allow students to take control of their choices while still focusing student work products like letters to mayors to be informed by artistic pictures of the vision expressed in those letters. The essential design flaw in current school thinking is looking back instead of forward and dwelling on the group vs. the individual. The future is harnessing individual learning through much more engaging work that develops student ownership of their own learning, and then, making those owners interact with other owners through multiple groupings of students, various types of group problem-solving, and solid delivery of final products that are worthy of merit badges that exceed standards. In order to break free of this old way of schooling, we need to create opportunities for schools to be places of innovation. Students should be running to school because it will be all they expect and more. Let’s make a place for creative innovators that will drive our country forward.