As teachers, we know that adolescents prefer doing rather than listening. Most children and teenagers always do. But what’s more interesting about this article is that it is one of the few that report on learning from a teenager’s perspective. We are so stuck in an outdated model of schooling, that to ask students how they learn best and then implement strategies based on their perspectives is off the radar of most secondary education stakeholders.
In the article, How High School Teachers can Better Engage their Students, according to the Teenagers Themselves, Adam Tyner and Emily Howell discuss how high school teachers can better engage students, by listening to the teenagers themselves. While there is scant research on learning from teenagers’ perspectives, most secondary teachers know that teenagers would prefer lessons and activities that involve some form of interactivity, particularly with technology; however, as the authors note, it is not necessarily the technology itself but rather the fact that “students like doing. They like discussing, creating, researching, and they’re less interested in activities that revolve around watching and listening.”
Yet, lecture is the still the norm in many of our secondary classrooms. Why is this? While many may want to blame the teacher, many of the reasons stem from our education system being stuck in the early 20th century’s model of preparing secondary students for factory work or war. In fact, a young Russian economist named Nicolai Kondratieff (who would go on to win the Noble prize in economics) pointed out in the early 1920’s, that it is much harder to build a new system when one must first unbuild the system that once worked very well in another context. Large central offices, employee unions, lobbying groups and bureaucracies of the past hold back the development of professional teaching cultures in our schools. If the mission is to prepare students in and for the next century, we must make our classrooms more problem-oriented, inquiry-oriented and authentic where real-world ideas and notions are explored, discussed, dissected. In fact a recent study showed, “73 percent of executives and 79 percent of hiring managers said that ability to “find, organize, and evaluate information from many sources” is a very important skill for college graduates (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). The ability to evaluate and synthesize across mediums to make sense of and evaluate information, as well as to extend our understanding is the hallmark of critical thinking, and a notion I try to help my graduate students in Reading thoroughly understand and practice.
At the same time, we ought to listen to 100 years of educational psychologists/philosophers and researchers such as Dewey, Vygotsky and Bandura whose ideas on interactivity and authentic learning experiences have been met with success in just about every educational setting except for main stream secondary education.
To begin is simple. It starts with designing our lessons/units backward based on our goals, and building in those practices that we know help students learn based within an authentic or inquiry-based frame. If we want our students to be critical and analytical thinkers in the 21st century, we must unbuild old practices, and start constructing experiences that begin with the adolescent student’s developmental needs in mind while also teaching the skills that employers and colleges say they want.