Creating a ‘this century’ Classroom

You want to do something grandiose in education? How about ‘transform classroom instruction to meet the needs of today’s learner?’ By most standards, transforming anything is a lofty goal. Now, think about the task of making transformation happen. I can tell you the image of change is written all over the wall. It also brings a million questions to mind. Can it be done? What will it take to make it happen? Is it realistic? How will I do it? And, what resources are available?

At first glance all of these questions seem easy to answer. But a long, second look reveals a much deeper issue. Where do I begin? How do I weave authenticity into the transformation process, and do I have a solid grasp of what it will take in planning to reap the benefits of a ‘this century’ classroom? Talk about pressure, or blame, if this transformation stuff doesn’t work out.

Much of what goes into this process will test any seasoned educator, much less a newbie or less experienced teacher. Thankfully, I’ve got the seasoned part on my side when it comes to skill, life-long learning, perseverance and tenacity. However, it doesn’t make the challenge any less daunting. In my mind, transforming instruction has more to do with things being less teacher-centered and much more student-centered. It’s more about student engagement and empowerment in what goes on in the classroom. Learning should be inquiry driven and require actual thought and problem solving. The learning process should also provide a plethora of collaboration opportunities. All of which would not exist if this was all about me, my lesson and my teaching.

It is important, I believe, to stretch our students far beyond the basic levels of Bloom’s where drill and kill collides with boring and unimaginative. It is time to move students into a world filled with curiosity, voice and choice and the ability to create the ‘need to know’ through mystery and intrigue. What happens if this instruction process moves my students to experience authentic learning at its finest? How do I pair transformation and authenticity and how do I replicate it to mean what I want it to?

A colleague, Dayna Laur, recently wrote an article titled, ‘The Top Ten Ways to Fake an Authentic Classroom.’ For the love of education, I almost broke out in hives when I read the title, but the article provided insight and forced me to reflect on my own teaching experiences.

As I scanned through the list of reasons, I caught on quickly as to why ‘faking it’ might be the road more traveled. I could pretend that every lesson I had ever prepared reeked of true authentic learning. In reality, what I walked away with was that while much of what I had taught or created for students to work on was indeed authentic. There were still a couple of their classes that deserved more authenticity than the ‘faked’ kind they got. Not only did that revelation burst my bubble–it actually hit a nerve. I could be a bit more dramatic; but to be fair, I already knew all of this. I’ve been making up for it ever since.

In the end what I really want is for “authentic” to mean that students are taking the lesson framework and creating solutions to problems. They should be writing action plans that require critical thinking to make it work, crafting a list of questions that Google can’t help with, and to be honest, I just plain want my students to be ‘out of their element’ to the point that they are probing their minds and souls looking for the answers that will satisfy their ‘need to know.’

Now, how to make this happen–stay tuned for Part 2.