I’ve recently been taking a lot of notice as to what my own children are being asked to do for homework and what various teachers are expecting of their students and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps we’re not really helping our kids to learn.
I’m not teacher-bashing here. I see that I’ve done this before too. And I know this is definitely not every teacher/class. But in my observations recently – reflecting also on what I’ve done – I realise that many children are asked to research this or that and present what they find out. I don’t know about you, but I can go and get information about a certain topic, present it in a way that satisfies the criteria given, and I will not have learnt a thing. I’ve engaged in a superficial way on a task that I can do pretty easily. I haven’t been challenged, however. I haven’t needed to think. I could-and many students/children do-copy and paste from the internet into my own presentation.
Ignoring the copyright issue for a moment, one could argue that this is okay as the student has shown enough understanding to pick the right information to present out of the screeds available online. However is this all we are really looking for?
I’m sure most teachers would ask questions that encourage higher-order thinking, but are these questions getting the answers you would hope by just asking for a presentation (which in my observations is usually a poster or a PowerPoint – don’t get me started on PowerPoint, but it is usually not an appropriate technology for children to use to present information in my opinion).
What many of these tasks are missing is the authentic context, the real life situation that makes the task/topic relevant to the students. They seem to be missing the group discussion/interactions to ask the questions that students actually need answers to. Although they are set up under the guise of inquiry learning, they are still teacher-centered with an expectation that students will carry it out in a certain way and present something to the teacher that satisfies their (the teacher) needs/requirements rather than giving the student ownership of their learning.
One of the key points about inquiry learning is that it is collaborative. Students “co-construct their learning in an authentic context” (Team Solutions). However, I have seen a number of inquiries given to students to work on individually.
I would love to hear about really positive learning experiences that are going on. I know they are happening as I read about many in blogs, on twitter and elsewhere, however I’m not convinced this is the norm.
Personally, I’m going to work at making sure what I ask my students to do is relevant to them somehow. I imagine with some things it could be particularly difficult. Also at the higher levels of school I know that qualifications can get in the way sometimes with students motivated by gaining credits. But hopefully I can help make learning more relevant to them.
Image: Flickr.com Tela Chhe / CC-BY-2.0