Look around you! Everything is constantly on the move, changing rapidly, adapting to new needs and contexts of life. But what happened to teaching and learning? These concepts seem to be stuck somewhere in time not being able to fit our reality. If we want to evolve truly and meaningfully, society should focus on how education can be revived.
Teachers around the world are trying to find solutions to the one-size-fits-all approach to education by giving learners voice and choice, transforming them into active participants in their own growth.
According to Matt Oberecker, who promotes personalized learning and 21st century skills as the supervisor of science and technology curriculum for the Marple Newtown School District in Pennsylvania, this approach should focus on creating the perfect environment for students to be heard and take learning into their own hands.
In his book, 'Giving Students a V.O.I.C.E. with Personalized Learning', he presents a new vision towards what teaching and learning means concluding that when students get involved more, they become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, thus cultivating their own identity. This view goes hand in hand with the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, 'Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn'.
Giving students a V.O.I.C.E. in your classroom
When learning is truly personalized, each student has a voice in the learning process. This does not mean teachers lose theirs; they only create the perfect learning environment in which students have a say in their journey towards their goals.
Matt Oberecker considers that instruction should revolve around five essential aspects to ensure its success, which create the acronym V.O.I.C.E. to perfectly underline the core of his vision:
Variety of ways to demonstrate understanding
Schools are faced with a variety of students in just one classroom which makes it a challenge for educators to try to reach everyone and address their learning needs. One way to do this is by differentiating instruction, which approaches teaching so as to cater for the different abilities students possess, with the purpose of maximizing their potential and help them reach success, rather than trying to mold them to fit the standards of curriculum.
This approach implies effective classroom management and an ability to motivate students. Teachers have to adapt and adjust everything according to learners' needs and considering their prior knowledge, interests and abilities, giving them a choice - the essence of differentiated learning - when it comes to what and how they learn, how they can demonstrate what they know, where and where they want to learn.
Ownership of learning
As teachers, we all want our students to be motivated and take ownership of their learning. To reach this goal, first you need to teach students the value a task brings to their development and second, give them the confidence to tackle that task and overcome their personal boundaries.
Then, to ensure students stay motivated and engaged, teachers can let students choose topics they resonate with and to facilitate students' agency, teachers can allow them to choose what task to solve or the order in which to solve them.
Moreover, students can take responsibility for their learning process if they have a clear picture of their own abilities. Having students self-assess their work or assess their peers as well, will increase the understanding they have of their achievements and setbacks.
Innovation and creativity
The skills students have been taught until now are no longer enough to be successful adults in the 21st century. One of the most important aspects of thriving in the workplace later in life — and in adulthood for that matter, is creativity.
Students need teachers to cultivate their creativity and to celebrate learners' efforts, to be open to novelty, crossing the barriers of traditional classrooms, to value questions rather than answers, to help students create and play, to focus on the cognitive complexity of a task and to meet students' levels and challenge them.
There is a continuous need to link teaching to real-life situations, to have students ready for this modern and competitive world. Most of these situations star team work activities as a supportive learning environment and collaboration.
Group-work is used in a multitude of approaches with different purposes, such as:
- project-based learning - to improve motivation and attitude towards learning;
- problem-solving learning - to improve students' abilities to solve problems, to hypothesis and provide coherent explanations;
- design-based learning - to be able to create products, assess and redesign them through dynamic feedback.
Successful grouping involves tasks performed usually by four students in which they interrelate while developing their social skills, they help each other succeed and they bring their own assets to the group. To ensure this works, teachers need to assign clear roles for each member, to value their interdependence, but to let them know they are all accountable for their own contribution.
We are witnessing a culture shift regarding who is responsible for students' learning. Not long ago, all teachers were accountable for their students' level of content acquisition and goal meeting. Nowadays, with students taking agency over their learning, the responsibility is more in their hands, with teachers partnering with them to help, guide and support them through the process of identifying who they are, while facilitating learning through personalized curriculum and assessment.
To avoid pitfalls in engagement, teachers should also empower students by letting them make choices in their education, by letting their voices be heard and by letting them self-evaluate their choices.
Engaging students has never been easier with the emergence of different edtech tools that kelp students acquire knowledge, build skills and create, all with the purpose of self-discovery and self-mastery.
Our society is in continuous change towards rapid development in all fields of knowledge and so should be our way of approaching teaching and learning. Students need to be able to face the challenges of the work environment and to be able to adapt to new requests as society evolves. This idea should be the purpose of instruction nowadays, giving students the possibility to acquire those skills and qualities for them to become active citizens, capable of solving problems and work effectively and efficiently to reach preset goals.
The one thing teachers need to remember though, is that students have their own expectations of what teaching and learning should look like. So, why not listen to their V.O.I.C.E.?