Sunday, September 9, 2012

Those who teach, can

One of the first insights I had as a young teacher was how much more confident I was with the content I was teaching after I had been teaching it for some time. I got into education as a journalism teacher, and while I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and had some experience as a news writer prior to becoming a teacher, I became a better writer and gained a fuller understanding of the principles of journalism after I became a teacher.

In his new book, Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age, educational technology consultant Alan November asserts that learning how to learn is a critical skill for excelling in today's world. One way November suggests to help develop this skill in students is to allow them to use communications technologies to become teachers of fellow students. Through the development of digital tutorials, students find a “sense of ownership, autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in designing and publishing something intended to be meaningful for others.

There is considerable support for the efficacy of peer tutoring in the research literature, for both tutors and tutored students. Tutoring facilitates a better understanding of content and a more positive attitude toward the subject matter being covered. Also, tutoring is effective in a variety of formats and content areas and among diverse student populations. However, the literature also suggests that good design and implementation are critical for tutoring to be successful. Effect sizes tend to be larger when students have more autonomy, when they use constructivist strategies for teaching the material, and when assessment is designed around program content rather than in the form of standardized tests. November argues that the process of tutorial design is a higher level activity, a creative process in which students become committed to the work because someone else will be depending on it.

Also, we know from cognitive science that if and how people think about something determines whether they retain it. Paying attention to something is essential but not enough to ensure it becomes part of long-term memory. People must think about the material in some meaningful way. Therefore, teachers should always seek to get students to think about the meaning of what it is they are studying. Having students design instruction for someone else could be a great way to get them to do this.

Who Owns the Learning? contains other ideas for providing students opportunities to make meaningful contributions in school. In the book, November shares the real experiences of teachers and students including initiatives in which students produce shared notes using cloud computing applications like Google Docs or in which teachers help students to understand the architecture of information on the Internet and how to navigate and validate it or in which students reach out beyond their own schools, and even communities, to collaborate with others around the world. All of the ideas, however, focus more on what students, not teachers, are doing with content and include digital communication as a means for establishing more purpose in school work.

The importance of November’s Who Owns the Learning? is less in the specific ideas he presents and more in actually asking the question, who really does own the learning?

  • Cohen, P. a., Kulik, J. a., & Kulik, C.-L. C. (1982). Educational Outcomes of Tutoring: A Meta-Analysis of Findings. American Educational Research Journal, 19(2), 237. doi:10.2307/1162567
  • November, A. (2012) Who owns the learning? Preparing students for success in the digital age, Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press
  • Roscoe, R. D., & Chi, M. T. H. (2007). Understanding Tutor Learning: Knowledge-Building and Knowledge-Telling in Peer Tutors’ Explanations and Questions. Review of Educational Research, 77(4), 534–574. doi:10.3102/003465430730992 
  • Willingham, D. (2009). Why don’t students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom, San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

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