Educational experts these days talk about learning by doing, not spoon-feeding information and expecting rote answers in return. We’re in a world where information is readily accessible. What’s more important is how we use this information and what we do with it. This is one of the core skills that is often talked about in context of 21st century learning and what students of today need to succeed in the world of tomorrow. However, our current education system is not set up to promote discovery and independent thinking.
Here is a scenario that Sal Khan (of Khan Academy fame) describes in his 2012 book: “Picture the stereotype of a perfectly run conventional classroom. Desks are arranged in tidy ranks and rows as on a chessboard. Students deploy their notebooks at parallel slants, their pencils poised in unison, like the bows of a violin section. All eyes are on the teacher looming at the front of the room. Silence reigns but for the first tap of her chalk against the blackboard. It’s a decorous and fitting atmosphere… for a funeral.” Most of us have gone through years of classes like these, and at least in my experience these well-ordered methodologies fail to teach much to the majority of the students.
Now let’s introduce some chaos in this world of learning. First, let’s do away with the age-based classroom. There is no evidence that age-based grouping has a beneficial effect on learning. In fact, it can be argued that pressure of moving on to the next grade hurts the learning process. So now, the classroom is a bigger space than before with students of mixed ages. The younger ones benefiting from the knowledge of the older ones, and the older ones learning by teaching. Next, we remove the restriction of a 45-minute class. There is a chunk of time (let’s say two to three hours at the elementary level) reserved for core skills, and students use it to work towards their weekly goals as they see fit. They can spend all of this time working through math or divide it up to study different subjects. They are free to dig deep into a particular topic that interests them or they can move around if they are bored with just one thing. This brings us to the role of the teacher in this scenario. Instead of acting as the ‘sage on the stage’ delivering a standard lecture to everyone, the teacher serves more as a coach, helping, assisting and identifying where more focus is needed.
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