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How Changes in Education Influence the 21st Century Classroom in an Ideal World

I’ve been considering changes in education and what the ideal 21st century classroom would look like, and I’ve come up with ten possible things that would revolutionize education. Some of them are simple changes; others are costly and time consuming (and therefore unlikely). But I’m interested to see if other teachers and authors of education articles agree.

What is 21st Century Learning?

I read a lot of education articles. One thing I see quite often comes from homeschoolers and other opponents of the public education system, and it is basically the argument that schools don’t adequately prepare kids for the modern world, focusing on test scores and deliberately abandoning students who seem destined to failure.

I can’t deny that there’s some truth in those claims. Governments and schools often put undue focus on test scores. The common argument of “don’t teach to tests: just teach the curriculum and the tests will take care of themselves” doesn’t work, either. For example, in our province we have a standardized test in creative writing (yeah, wrap your head around that one) where students are expected to write a story in the space of one hour.

Since an effective writing curriculum certainly doesn’t teach kids to write an entire story in the space of an hour (as a writer myself, I can say with some assurance that very few people will EVER use that skill), it means that I do have to take time out of the curriculum to ready my students for the test. However, like most responsible teachers, I try very hard not to make the year about “teaching to the test.” I work hard to create a 21st century classroom where education, creativity, and exploration carry the day.

So what is 21st century learning? Sir Ken Robinson describes it well:

Now more than ever, it is vital to encourage all areas of young people’s intellectual and personal capabilities and to recognise that doing this is not at odds with their academic development.

Ten Things I Would See in the Ideal 21st Century Classroom

1. Computers and students in a 1:1 ratio

Computers are frequently and consistently necessary in today’s classrooms. When students don’t have consistent access to technology, their education suffers.

2. Elimination, or serious reevaluation, of standardized testing.

I understand the need to maintain accountability, but standardized tests in their current form completely undermine changes in education and everything we know about 21st century learning.

3. Increased freedom.

This is for both students AND teachers. Although there clearly needs to be a set curriculum, kids should be free to explore some of their own interests, and teachers should be free to try new approaches and ideas.

4. Increased focus on the arts.

As a teacher at a fine arts school, I firmly believe that the arts are one of the primary ways we encourage students to explore creativity and confidence. Eliminating these essential subjects deprives students of these opportunities.

5. Less lecturing.

Teachers need to abandon the traditional method where the teacher talks and the students take notes. It doesn’t work for 21st century learning, and most of us know it.

6. Increased and improved professional development.

Teachers get a lot of technology, ideas, and theories thrown at them, usually without time to adequately explore or learn how to use these ideas. In many cases, teachers then abandon new things out of frustration.

7. Greater recognition of varying learning styles among teachers and students.

Both students AND teachers learn in a variety of ways. Shoehorning teachers into a single method works no better than it does in a classroom. Both teachers and students should have options, choices, and varying evaluations to help them achieve their full potential.

8. Clarified objectives.

We need to look through the curriculum and decide what really matters. Instead of trying to meet 85 minute learner outcomes, we should be focusing on the big picture.

9. Increased community involvement.

Students should be learning that no one lives in a vacuum any longer. The more they can interact with the local community, their provincial, national, and even global communities, the better.

10. Freedom of space.

Sitting in desks works great for some, not for others. Who cares if a kid wants to sprawl on the ground to work? As long as they’re getting something done, I say go for it.

These would be my ideas of an ideal 21st century classroom, but what other changes in education am I missing?


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