The Future of Learning

Since the beginning of this school year, many thought-provoking, and sometimes gut wrenching, ideas have challenged me to really think about the present model of education.  In recent weeks, I have blogged about Tony Wagner and his ideas regarding play, passion, and purpose, and Finland’s model of education that has been so successful.  The following video clip, produced by Ericsson and featuring Sugatra Mita, Daphne Koller, and Jose Ferreira, came to my attention this week.  All of these have a common thread that prompts a re-evaluation of educational ideas and practices.

I come from a traditional educational background.  I attended a public elementary school, grades 1-6, then went on to a public junior high school, grades 7-9, and graduated from a public high school grades 10-12.  I then attended a state university, received a bachelor’s degree, and then finished my master’s degree in the first three years of my teaching career.  School was often difficult for me, but I was a good student because I worked hard and, most of the time, I was able to meet the expectations of the model.  On the other hand, I never scored well on standardized tests and still remember the anxiety that I had taking achievement tests in elementary and junior high school, the SAT in high school, and the GMAT before entering graduate school.  As a teacher for nine years in the public schools of North Carolina, I worked diligently with my students to help them pass state sanctioned “end-of-grade” tests in different subject areas and writing standardized tests.

It’s interesting that the model of education that existed when I was a child in elementary school had changed very little by the time I became a teacher…and is still essentially the same.  And still today, students who, like me, are able to meet the expectations of the model, are doing well in the system.  Those who can’t are the students who are “enduring” the school experience, and are hopefully finding their own ways to be successful.

Currently, due to enrollment issues and the changing climate of Japan in general, ASIJ is in a period of transition.  Administrators, teachers, and students, through a strategic development plan, are reviewing the school’s approach to education across the board.  This is an important time for the school, because opportunities for effective change exist on so many levels.

Now, we have to ask ourselves the really hard questions:

  •  Is our current model of education really meeting the needs of each of our students?
  • Are we encouraging “out of the box” thinking and motivating future innovators with learning experiences that nurture entrepreneurialism?
  • What do we as a faculty and community at large value when it comes to education?

Our PTA is currently holding screenings for the video “Race to Nowhere” for administrators, faculty, and parents.  This is another film that calls out for schools and communities to re-evaluate their educational values.

We are on the edge of an educational revolution.  With the “connectedness” that new technology has enabled, it seems inevitable.  I think that Daphne Koller makes an important point when she states that education no longer has to be the “conveyor of content”.  Access of that content is now available to everyone and we don’t need teachers to pass on information.  What we do need are teachers who motivate students in particular areas and enable them to learn deeply…”developing thinking skills, problem solving skills, and a passion for the discipline.”

Sugata Mitra and his research suggest that students will learn for themselves and sometimes teach each other if they are intrinsically motivated by curiosity.  How often, as teachers, are we able to allow students to pursue the things that really motivate them and incorporate play and passion into the school day?  I believe that all good teachers try to do this, but within the current system, they are often bound to be the “conveyors of content”.

No doubt, we have come to a crossroads.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities.


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
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5 Responses to The Future of Learning

  1. I am so glad to hear that your school, as well as many others, is re-evaluating the way that it “does education.” Many students seem to be just marking time until they can graduate and get on with their real lives. Some are making the educational systems that they find themselves in work to their advantage by connecting their interest and passions to every possible area of their content curriculum. The schools that foster and encourage such attachments help to create motivated and passionate learners that tend to quickly find their bliss when it comes to settling on a vocation.

    A good teacher, given the permission (or better the impetus) by the administration can make such a big difference in the lifetime attitude of a student towards learning. Here is one example of you, as a teacher of my 5th grade daughter, making some allowances to accommodate for the passion of one student….

    You may remember Arnold, the pigeon. Elsa had rescued a pigeon from the clutches of a hungry cat who was preparing to opportunistically pounce upon a pigeon with an injured wing. The fortunate bird was ferried home inside a warm sweatshirt and cared for in a large dog kennel cage while the wing healed. Her teacher, (ignoring the fact that pigeons may carry diseases, etc.) allowed this student to bring her charge to class and tell her story of rescue and healing to her classmates who were enthralled with the sight of a girl toting a pigeon on her shoulder as it shyly his its beak behind her ear. The pigeon incident led to independent study of avian anatomy, wing structure, and animal care. Evidence of wing structure knowledge now shows up in many intricate drawings of various winged creatures, (mostly mythical) that populate the pages of a growing collection of sketchbooks as this budding artist begins to build a portfolio in her Sophomore year of high school.

    You are right in recognizing the importance of intrinsic curiosity. Hopefully schools will catch on and begin to encourage true and deep learning in its organic variety of manifestations.

    • Jamie says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ruth. Your account really sums up what I hoped to articulate in the post. What genuine learning took place! We have this window of opportunity for real change and I’m optimistic and hopeful that education will begin to take on qualities that meet the needs of every single student…not just the ones who can conform to the current model.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and resources, Jamie. The Race to Nowhere is now on my “to view list”. It is exciting to hear that your school is involving all stakeholders to examine their educational values and how they impact the future direction of the school. As I end the first quarter at a new school in a new country, I have enjoyed the process of peeling back the layers of culture related to education. I agree with you that we are now at a crucial point where we, as educators, need to examine how our values and systems can be more inclusive and adaptive to individual needs and interests. As “connectedness” becomes the norm for school and the global community, finding a healthy balance between academics, extra curricular activities, and social, emotional needs is crucial. I have included a couple links to talks from Sir Ken Robison and Simon Sinek that came to mind after reading your post.

    I look forward to hearing more of your progress as the process continues at your school.

  3. You always have the best videos! I love how you always share exactly the right supporting evidence to go with your posts, thank you!

  4. seedjoy says:

    I think it is so exciting that you are able to have these kinds of discussions at your school. I think we are so lucky to be educators at this time and leaders of this exciting change. We are learning at my school to learn form other schools but not try to be those other schools. It is important to go with what works for your learning environment. We are so lucky that we get to help to figure that out. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and these great videos. I think I might share them with some of the teachers at my school.

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