“Kids are born curious about the world. What adults primarily do in the presence of kids is unwittingly thwart the curiosity of children”
-Neil deGrasse Tyson
It is with a heavy heart that I answer this week’s blog question: Are our current schools/teachers/curriculum preparing students for the 21st century? I have to say that no, I do not believe we are. I do not mean to imply that there are no teachers and schools trying to teach for the 21st century, but I think as a whole, we are not preparing our students for the world they are inheriting.
I don’t say this flippantly or without any trace of hope. I see pockets of people who are trying to investigate and explore creative ways of thinking and learning. I see teachers taking steps out of their comfort zones to try new things, and do some inquiry based learning in their classroom. I do not, however, see the overall support for these teachers. There are those who are too afraid to try inquiry based/play based/design thinking in their classes, because they fear the “curriculum police” and the possible discipline for not teaching the Prescribed Learning Outcomes. There are many teachers out there who have their rooms crammed with students and are so busy putting out behaviour fires that are quite literally in survivor mode. These teachers are just trying to make it through day by day. There are teachers who do not know about these ways of teaching, and need to be given the support and encouragement to go to workshops, conferences, and do reading to support their further growth. I do not think these opportunities are being supported by our governments, locally or provincially. Professional development is becoming very tied to district goals, and is often given in a “talk down” formula.
I look at my own classroom with 21 Kindergarten and Grade 1 students. During the past month, several have come down with the flu, and I have had about 16 five and six year olds in my class. On those days, I was able to have conversations of meaning with these children. We had more room to explore, time to create and conversation flowed about our discoveries, not about self-regulation and behaviour.
Our very classroom and school buildings do not promote 21st century learning. Classrooms are often too small for the number of children, and are often too inclusive. Larger, open areas where students could meet comfortably with other older or younger children for collaboration, inquiry and community do not exist. Outdoor areas are concrete and so well groomed, that the opportunity to go out and experience nature is non-existent in many schools. Parents often see “play” as nothing more than children having fun. They do not see an exploration outdoors as a learning opportunity, and believe that school is for sitting at a desk memorizing facts. The paperwork to simply go into the community is often overwhelming, so teachers stay in their little, dark rooms and survive as best they can.
I feel the current curriculum also doesn’t support 21st century learning. The number of fact based outcomes and skills we are required to teach is often daunting, especially in a split grade. We are provided with information to present to students, but not a lot of experiences. I realize that our curriculum is moving towards more exploration and “big idea” learning, so I see hope in that. Our assessment tools, however, need to be overhauled to fit this new way of thinking. Letter grades and numbered systems do not seem to fit the 21st century learner. I read and hear about schools giving up the letter grades and trying new ways of reporting “achievement” and I look forward to seeing how that develops. Our younger learners are recorded as “minimally meeting, meeting, exceeding and approaching” expectations as their “grade”. I find this system demoralizing to my young students, who are sometimes only guilty of being born in December instead of September.
I am not trying to be all gloom and doom. I see glimmers of hope in my peers and in the discussions teachers are starting to have about change. I look forward to seeing what we can do with the new curriculum.