5 Things Teachers (And Administrators) Can Do to Make Learning Real in Their Classrooms

To paraphrase Marc Prensky from his collection of essays From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning: “The easiest, executable solution to our education problems today “is to change what goes on in our classrooms.” We need to move from teacher-centered and teacher dominated learning models to more personal, student-centered learning models. In the process, we will do what Prensky calls “Making Education Real” for our students.

Enough of the rhetoric and cheap talk. What does it really mean to make education and learning real in the classroom? In his essay, Prensky offers “5 Things Teachers Can Do at the Beginning of the Year to Make Education Real for Their Students.” I am going to modify that just a bit a here to capture what I think are the “5 Things Teachers Can Do to Make Learning Real in Their Classrooms.”
  • Get to know your students. And this does not mean their proficiency levels and past test scores. That information is important, but if you want to make learning real for your students in your classroom, you better connect with them. Connecting means learning about what they are passionate about. It means learning who they are as persons. It means connecting with them on a personal level. For learning to be real in your classroom, you have to see students as real people, with real passionate interests and needs. No room for standardization here.
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend “telling” in your classroom and engage students in more “partnering activities” that allow students to pursue their own passions. Granted, it is a challenge when there are “Adopted Standards” waiting to be tested, but so many students don’t learn at all, much less deeply with lecture and “sit-n-get” modes of instruction. As Prensky notes, “Capitalize on students’ 21st century abilities to learn on their own.” Give them opportunities to engage in the kind of learning they are wired to do instead of forcing them to learn in an incompatible manner.
  • Facilitate learning by guiding students through their learning. Teachers can help students focus on what’s important and what’s next. They can help them make the most of 21st century learning tools to engage in content and skills. This means stepping out from the front of the classroom and standing beside or sitting with students as they learn. It means letting goal of being the center of the classroom.
  • Foster global connections with peers and experts. Teachers should assist students in connecting with other students globally. They should help students connect with experts that can help them learn. In effect, teachers should help students create their own Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Then, they should help students care for and grow that network according to their learning needs.
  • Motivate students by allowing them to use their 21st century devices in their learning. This means setting aside the impulse to block the use of cell phones in the classroom. This means providing students with wireless access in the school building in the form of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives and 1:1 Technology initiatives. It means engaging students in the use of social media and other technologies rather than blocking them on school networks. We can make learning real by simply allowing students to use the devices of learning they use outside our school walls.
If we really want to change education and learning for our students, let’s change what is happening in classrooms, and our buildings. Let’s make education real for our students by moving from “Telling” classrooms to “Partnering” classrooms that enable students to engage in learning.
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