Not What, but How
In its simplest form, learning is the act of improving by means of engagement in realistic experiences that are also meaningful to the learner, and it is important to recognize that learning occurs in a variety of ways, two of which are explicit and implicit methods. Explicit learning arises from what we read, write, and discuss in academic settings, and it is present in the classroom in the form of books, lectures, pictures, and movies. Implicit learning, on the other hand, has more to do with what we discover in the real world by means of life experiences, experiential learning, and other hands-on activities. There are numerous reasons to engage with both explicit and implicit learning, but experience leads me to believe that implicit learning carries more value than explicit learning because students learn more effectively when they are able to engage with the material in a meaningful way.
An effective teacher serves as a guide for students, exposing them to knowledge and skills, and encouraging them to refine these practices. Teachers need to extend their lessons beyond the material covered in traditional textbooks and show students both the extrinsic and intrinsic value of the material. By clearly defining the purpose of their lessons, so that students develop into well-rounded individuals and thinkers who can then mature into critical thinkers and effective consumers of information, effective teachers can engage their students fully. Lessons need to be thoughtful and engaging and assessment must be authentic to truly involve students in the process of learning.
My ultimate goal as an educator is to guide and prepare my students for success in the complex world that awaits them outside the classroom by creating young citizens who remain engaged as lifelong learners. In order to accomplish this goal, I need to provide my students with “all the intellectual muscle and deep thinking we have traditionally associated with the best of higher education” (Hersh), yet also help them nurture and master the skills needed to thrive in the world today. One way to achieve this goal is through teaching the 3-R’s—Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic—and the 4-C’s—Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration & Creative Innovation. The traditional practice of teaching the 3-R’s is inadequate today solely on their own. However, the 3-R’s are of great value if teachers complement the content based knowledge by incorporating the 4-C’s into their daily lessons.
I do not have any major qualms regarding the delivery and presentation of the 3-R’s, which typically involves teachers presenting the information to their students via lecture or texts, but it is clear that educators need to revisit how we go about teaching the 4-C’s. Thus, I feel that educators need to demand that their students not only construct meaning from the material they study, but also validate their findings and conclusions. Students also need to excel when it comes to articulating their thoughts, emotions, and beliefs in a public setting through both the written and spoken language.
The combination of Project Based Learning and Authentic Assessment are two excellent ways to have students engage with the 4-C’s, in addition to displaying their grasp of the 3-R’s. The primary reason why I am fond of this combination is that students serve as the catalyst for their learning and growth. A unit that follows the framework of either PBL or Authentic Assessment not only evaluates a student’s grasp of the content knowledge, but it also requires students to think critically, collaborate with others, communicate their ideas, and showcase their creativity as innovators. Another major benefit to developing lessons in accordance with PBL or Authentic Assessment requirements is that students can interact with various forms of technology in order to access resources that were previously inaccessible prior to the surplus of technology in the classroom today (BIE).
In addition to incorporating interaction with both the 3-R’s and the 4-C’s, Project Based Learning and Authentic Assessment methods provide ample opportunities for the observation of student’s Self-Regulated Learning. SRL revolves around the understanding of how students direct and control their learning in terms of metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral processes (Barnes and Urbankowski).
Five key traits define Authentic Assessment, which also apply to the Project Based Learning:
- The prompt is a real world problem/scenario that increases and sustains student engagement;
- Students engage in authentic and complex processes, such as mining research, establishing a plan of action, and evaluating competing ideas;
- Promotes the use of higher level thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation);
- Students construct an authentic product or performance;
- Evaluation via detailed rubrics that outline expectations for a successful performance or product.
- Learning occurs whenever an individual improves in some way, shape, or form.
- There are two major types of learning: explicit, which occurs in a typical academic environment, and implicit, which tends to originate from real-world experiences.
- It is vital for students to master both the 3-R’s and the 4-C’s in order to find success outside of school in the world today.
- Student-centered methods, such as project-based learning, are a meaningful and effective way to go about reinforcing the 3-R’s and 4-C’s.
- The recent increase in classroom technology has served to reinvigorate the need to hold students to the same expectations that Socrates held his students to back in Ancient Greece.
- Barnes, Nicole C. and Daniel Urbankowski. "Planning, implementing, and assessing an authentic performance task in middle grades classrooms." Middle School Journal May 2014: 17-24.
- BIE. Why Project Based Learning (PBL)? 20 May 2014 <http://bie.org/about/why_pbl>.
- Cookson, Peter. "What Would Socrates Say?" Educational Leadership September 2009: 8-14.
- Hersh, Richard. "A Well-Rounded Education for the Flat World." Educational Leadership September 2009: 50-53.