“Who Owns the Learning?”

charlierubickscubeWe were lucky to have Alan November as a guest speaker at the Marin County Office of Education in February.  At a Round Table discussion before his talk (captured here), one teacher asked him what to do when today’s students don’t really know how to learn – he said they have become passive sponges, taking in what teachers say without curiosity of their own.  I had to remind that teacher that I see kids wanting to learn and taking initiative for their own learning all of the time – just not what we want them to, when we want them to.

I walked in to my son’s room the other day and he was sitting with his iPad on his lap. watching something with his Rubik’s Cube in his hand. I was ready to yell at him for going online without permission, and then I realized what he was doing – learning how to solve the Rubik’s Cube by watching YouTube videos others had posted. He can now do it on his own, from any arrangement. He was motivated to learn, and he quickly found a Rubik’s Cube expert to help him.  He also recently viewed the video “What Most Schools Don’t Teach,” about computer coding, and within minutes was on Code.org to begin creating his first website, learning as he went from the tutorial on the site.

Alan November asks “Who Owns the Learning,” advocating for the answer to be the students.  I know as a former history/social studies teacher that there are certain “things” students should know to be productive, engaged citizens. I also know that these “things” aren’t interesting to many students in their raw form.  Rather than tell them what they need to know, it is incumbent upon me, and all teachers, to create learning situations where they need to know in order to solve a problem or answer a question that is interesting to them.  If I hear a teacher say, “he’s not motivated to learn,” I want to ask – to learn what and how?

I have to apply this same logic as a site leader – I can’t just stand up and point fingers at the teachers.  When I offer training and professional development, I have to remember that teachers are learners, too. I can’t only tell teachers that they should be motivated, I have to ways to help them own their learning by helping craft questions and problems that interest them, and that they can help each other solve and learn.  My standing up in front of a faculty and telling them what they must to is no more effective as a learning opportunity than a history teacher doing that with a class.

Once we ask the right questions, we can all own the learning together.


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