Last year, Kim Crosby spent about 80 percent of her class time teaching math concepts at Waukesha STEM Academy in Wisconsin. For the other 20 percent, she helped students individually.
This year, that time was reversed: 80 percent of her class time was spent moving from student to student; about one-fifth continued to be a standard lecture format. The rest of the direct-instruction materials she wanted students to see, she assigned them to watch or read at home.
“If we want kids to act like adults and be responsible and come up with ideas and manage their time,” he said, “why do we continue to tell them exactly what to do and expect them to do it in the same way and at the same time as everyone else?”
Krohn is part of a growing network of educators in Wisconsin and across the nation calling for learning environments that are less lecture-driven and more collaborative. They want children to think better for themselves. They believe teachers must use technology in more sophisticated ways to advance learning. They believe the immediate payoff is more engagement. The long-term goal: higher achievement.
Why are classes still largely structured around lecturing, when research shows learners often retain information better through writing about it or explaining it, with feedback?
Why do schools largely group children by similar age instead of similar ability?
Why is memorization and fact-regurgitation so heavily valued when school leaders and employers say they want greater problem solving and critical thinking skills from graduates?
New technologies offer promising opportunities for schools to move away from the factory-style instruction model to one where learning plans are customized for each student.
In some schools, personalized learning aligns with a blended learning approach that mixes face-to-face teaching with online instruction.
Jim Rickabaugh, the former superintendent of Whitefish Bay Schools, has launched The Institute at CESA 1, an initiative aimed at helping districts evangelize the concept of customized education through the use of technology and by teaching students to advocate for themselves, research effectively, and take ownership of their own learning.
Teachers who already use more technology in their teaching—such as the suite of free Google Apps for Education or ALEKS, a popular online math program produced by McGraw-Hill—find value in the tools. But little independent academic research is available to judge the quality of one program over another.
What is clear, at least to Miron, is that research suggests well-executed project-based learning builds higher-level thinking skills in students, and that an engaging teacher—technology or no technology—is essential.
As technology matures and educators become more skilled at applying it, Rickabaugh believes that personalizing education will become the new standard.
“We need to make a fundamental shift to customized learning plans for each student, which are attached to world-class standards
Krohn developed a vision, which was supported by the district and a charter school planning grant from the state. One thing was immediately clear: His kids would need online access all the time. The school is wireless. Every student is issued a laptop, their assignments and work accessible on the internet.
Students spend much more of the day working in groups to find the answers to questions and explaining concepts to their friends, while teachers provide one-on-one or group support.
“So much of this is about rethinking education and our educational philosophy,” Roehl said. “This works for students who want to take ownership of their learning. They create a task analysis and outline what skills they need to accomplish
Roehl and others acknowledge that this style of learning is not for everyone. Some students cannot handle the independence and need to be pushed along with higher levels of direct instruction.
Teacher’s role changing