Learning to unlearn: taking a new perspective on education

Nicola Kuhn
By Nicola Kuhn
October 10th, 2012

[This is the second post in a series on implementing blended learning. The first post, When A Vision Becomes A Reality is available here.]

Today was serendipitous. I learned of Nikhil Goyal. At 17 years old, Goyal is the author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School. Fed up with an education system that felt like a waste of time, unrelated to anything in the real world, Goyal took control of his own learning to pursue his interests in politics, current affairs and math through books, lectures and online courses.  “Millions of young people are being told to shut up, sit down, and listen each and every day,” writes the young senior at Syosset High School, in New York. Goyal stresses the education system needs to foster creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills to prepare students for an economic reality based on innovation and entrepreneurship. Schools should be focusing on “creativity, imagination, discovery, and project-based learning.” And he is right.

Although Goyal’s ideas are reflected in the BC Education Plan, professional journals and blog posts, what is unique is that Goyal is a student. Reading about this young man came at a perfect time. We have lost a handful of students since we implemented blended learning at Rossland Secondary School. No more than last year, or most other years but for different reasons.  

It is not because they couldn’t get the classes they needed, such as a senior science where only a handful students may want the course, or even a scheduling conflict. Blended learning has eliminated issues such as the inability to offer courses with low enrollment. In fact, it has enabled us to offer courses for just a few students who are interested in less popular courses, as well as provide students with several new courses offerings, such as Social Justice 12. No, the students we lost said, “I just want a teacher to tell me what to do.”

Fair enough really. We have taught them that school works best when you sit quietly, listen to your teachers, study what you are told  and get high marks on the test. For many this system is comfortable, predictable and satisfying. It is a lot of work to ask our students to be responsible for their time, their learning paths, their progress and their goals. These are skills that many of us are still struggling with as adults but imagine if you were taught these competencies from an early age?

We need to foster independent thinkers while helping them collaborate towards meaningful, real world endeavors. As I talk to our students I see the ones who are eager to embrace this challenge and view it as life long learning. I also know that we can’t expect all students to adopt these changes immediately. It is going to be hard work teaching them how to unlearn years of schooling and it won’t happen overnight.

In the coming weeks, we will be offering students a chance to learn how to unlearn by attending seminar sessions dedicated to creating inquiry based and personalized learning. These sessions will lead students through the process of connecting their interests, passions and important questions to learning outcomes across the curriculum. Students will then be guided through the inquiry process in order to formulate their focus, learn effective research skills, connect with experts in the community and globally, and analyze and synthesize information in order to create new understandings that they will be able to share and communicate to others.

We aren’t where we want to be yet, but it is only the third week of September. This learning journey has just begun. In the video clip below, Valerie Hannon, Board Director of the Innovation Unit, London UK, which works internationally to promote innovation in public services, talks about the future role of schools as a ‘base camp’, where students come together to discuss their learning beyond the school walls. Personalized learning will be much more common.

Nicola Kuhn is the teacher-librarian at Rossland Secondary School. This column first appeared on her blog, Seven Summits Librarian. Please note that this column was first posted two weeks ago, hence the reference to ‘September’.

Categories: EducationIssuesOp/Ed

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