Historically, the teacher has been the omniscient presence in just about every classroom in the world. They were the only ones who possessed the all-mighty knowledge which was passed on to their yearning students. Traditionally, pupils were placed in rows directed towards the maestro perched at the front of the room spouting facts that the students madly scribbled in their notebooks. The aforementioned students would then, at a later time, pour over their notebooks attempting to commit these facts to their short-term memory for long enough to get a decent grade on the corresponding test. Then, they would promptly forget most everything they "supposedly" learned. Sound familiar?
The only other source of knowledge on any particular subject was the textbook. In modern times, these were, and still often are, assigned in a course to each student at the beginning of the school year. Textbooks have existed since the time of papyrus and have represented a portable form of knowledge for centuries. However, for many of us who toted them around risking scoliosis for nearly two decades, textbooks have left a very negative taste in our mouths. I can clearly remember trying to read from them while fighting to keep my eyes from clamping shut.
Okay class, let's review. For thousands of years, there have generally only been two sources of knowledge in a classroom: 1) the teacher; and 2) the text book.
So, is it possible that all of this could change in a matter of a few short years? Is it conceivable that educational tradition and history could be disrupted in a radical way? Is it imaginable that neither the teacher nor the textbook are the most powerful tools in the classroom in 2014? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES.
The most influential tool in the classrooms of today is the Internet, and districts, schools, and/or teachers that are not dealing with this reality are truly doing a huge disservice to their students. As we progress in this technologically charged world, we face a very important question. What is to become of the role of teachers? Will they become obsolete?
Fortunately, the answer is no, but what I hope to prove to you is that a teacher's role in the classroom must change. We have all heard teachers referred to as the "sage on the stage", but now that they are no longer the most sagacious presence in the room, they truly must become more of a "guide on the side". I too am a teacher, but like to describe my role to students as one of facilitator, mentor and coach.
The hard truth is that the tech-savvy students of today do not want to be lectured to about facts they can instantly find with the click of a button on their smart phones. Siri can often give a more comprehensive answer than many of us on any given topic. Therefore, the honest truth is that HOW we teach must change. Making students memorize rote facts and regurgitate them is no longer sensible, and educators now have the opportunity to have students think much more critically, solve problems, and use their creativity in ways they never have been pushed to do in the past.
This can be done by making classrooms much more student-centered than ever before. We, as facilitators, can broach broad and meaningful questions based around the units we teach, but our students can do the research, seek out the answers, and teach themselves the material. Let me give you an example. In my AP Spanish class, one of our themes is "World Challenges". I start the unit by simply asking, "What are the greatest challenges facing our world and how do we solve them?" I know the answer to this question, but that is unimportant because I charge them with seeking out the answers. I divide them into small groups and give them time to investigate on their own. Once they have researched the topic, I have them make a poster using the Explain Everything App that demonstrates their results. If your students do not have an iPad, they can use actual poster board. Then, they present their poster and their discoveries to their classmates. I guide them through the process, but they teach themselves and their peers the material. Later in the unit when they have to write a persuasive essay on, "What is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet and how can we solve it?" they are able to think critically on the matter because they already did when they explored the material earlier.
We were taught very differently because we only had access to the "Encyclopedia Britannica", text books, and card catalogs. The students of today have access to a colossal amount of information. We must take this into consideration if we are going to prepare them for the modern workplace and a future so technologically advanced that it is inconceivable at this moment.
For teachers, the hardest part is letting go of control in their classrooms. Many educators are experts in what they teach, so it can be hard for them to not demonstrate their breadth of knowledge in their subjects on a daily basis. Also, teachers must now become receptive and open to a classroom full of lively, yet organized chaos. Educators have to develop a level of comfort with the fact that they are no longer simply lecturing to a silent audience.
I hope that I have shown that students need to be more in control of their own learning. In order for this to occur, educators must move aside and give up some power. This is the only way we can begin to make true educational progress, and the Internet must be our guiding force.
If you are an educator, a parent, or anyone else interested in education, get inspired the same way I did by watching Sugata Mitra's TEDTalk.