Last week, I read a post by Matthew Renwick called ‘Maximize Learning, Not Technology’’.  While common to come across posts that focus on how to optimize learning using 21st century tools in innovative ways, this stood out in a slightly different way…it focused on the why:

“So when we have our students, what do you believe is the best way to spend this time? I believe it’s the student-to-student, student-to-teacher, and student-with-self experiences that are the priority. Digital tools have a place, but it should not be the focus. If technology is the form, then pedagogy is the function. We need to ask ourselves why we want to use technology with a learning initiative, instead of what the technology is or how it can be used. This post is not to put down the role of technology in education, but to offer a different perspective – “

This had me wondering as I recently began my time in one of my SWS schools.

As a Student Work Study teacher, I enjoy the first few encounters getting to know students. I’m usually bombarded with wonderful, curious, questions, (i.e., How old are you?  Are you married? Do you have children? Are you a ‘real’ teacher?, etc.) Always a beautiful reminder of what students are consistently curious about – the personal side of a teacher…the human factor in learning.

This primary class was particularly interesting.  I sat at a table with five students.  They were questioning, discussing, and documenting their research.  I listened intently.  My ‘in’ was asking them about a website they were using:  I was fascinated by how they were making sense of all the online information as they continued to tell me about their research – an animal of interest.  They beamed with excitement whenever they discovered something new.  As they transferred their information to a graphic organizer, and through our conversation, I began to notice a few things:

  • they were talking through their learning
  • they were synthesizing information through conversation
  • they were building new knowledge
  • the words ‘technology’ and ‘iPad’ were never mentioned

“Schools have arrived at a point where access to online/digital learning is no longer the main issue. Instead, how access is thoughtfully and smartly utilized by educators will make the difference in students’ learning lives going forward.”

An integral part of Student Work Study is to interrogate personal biases and assumptions through observation.  Conversations with the classroom teacher are when biases get interrogated best.  I asked about her journey in creating such a dynamic learning environment.  Based on my own knowledge and experiences, I assumed she had prior experience in Early Learning, particularly in a Reggio-inspired setting.

I was wrong.

She shared that she consistently seeks out support, ideas, new learning, from anyone and everyone who she feels will guide her practice to become better every day.

The next day, I put my notebook and iPad away.  I challenged myself to simply observe through my senses.  After a shared reading lesson, students proceeded to various centres in the classroom…some to a table to read various books, others to a small guided reading session with the classroom teacher, some to a ‘wonder wall’ to post questions, some to a table to write,  some to a small, cozy reading nook, and some to a table with iPads.  It was the coffee shop ambience, minus the coffee.

As an educator and researcher, I noticed that all students, regardless of location, or tool, were all researchers themselves…not simply about a topic or subject, but about themselves as learners.  Students were exploring various tools to nurture their curiosity.  They physically moved through the space in order to move their thinking and learning.  They were problem-solvers, meaning-makers, questioners, and collaborative and reflective thinkers.  I noticed in these moments their demonstration of every learning skill we continue to discuss as ‘a challenge to teach’.  There was a common understanding of the why in their learning.

I asked the classroom teacher once again.  I wondered how such intentional planning and practice seemed so unintentional and natural?

“I ask friends and colleagues, I search online…about how to make things better, like the setup of the environment and how that connects to inquiry-based learning.  My job is to help them figure out, how to figure out, what they need to figure out.”

Doesn’t get more ’21st century’ than that!


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