by Liz Griffin
Superintendents should find teachers who believe students are teachers and teachers are learners, said Alan November during a Thought Leader session on Sunday at the AASA national conference in Houston.
Alan November asks, "Who Owns the Learning?"
The role of the leader is process change, he said. “Education has held onto the organization of school rather than to change the way learning occurs.”
November is the senior partner and founder of November Learning, running workshops for educators.
A new way to organize classrooms, he noted, is the “flip model” because it changes who owns the locus of control for learning. It is one example of a change process that leaders can employ. In the flip model, students are doing the teaching, and teachers are facilitating.
Yet in most classrooms visited by superintendents, November says, when the leaders ask themselves who is working harder -- the teacher or the student? “In almost every case, it’s the teacher.”
Research shows that learning is improved when it is a social endeavor, for example, taking notes in a lecture versus having to talk to a peer about what you’ve learned and then defending your conclusions. Research also shows that students want to contribute to their own learning, November claimed.
“If you show a kid that her (tutorial) video has been watched by 20,000 – that’s empowering,” says November.
He told a story of the transformation of Eric Mazur, the dean of physics at Harvard University, who was troubled by the fact that students were getting high marks on courses but were still missing a grasp of fundamental concepts. Mazur researched whether subject matter expertise contributed to better student outcomes. The data proved otherwise, said November. Harvard professors, including Mazur himself, like other college professors contributed an average 20-percent value from the pre-test of what students knew at the beginning of a course to their end-of-test score.
Mazur was truly shocked; he had thought to himself, "not mystudents!" because he had taught for seven years and always received high marks by students in end-of-semester evaluations and his students had received good grades on tests that he knew were difficult, often requiring advanced Calculus. “He was furious,” November recalled, but Mazur knew he this test of 30 questions focused on deeper understanding of fundamental concepts of physics, not the mechanics of solving equations, which some students had been able to do without understanding the physics that was going on.
Mazur shifted the focus from teaching to learning by putting students more in charge. He started a Facebook-like application to gather students’ questions about physics, asking them to contribute questions about the reading assignment before class, and he found students raised many more questions by contributing online than they would in class. (As an aside, November said that Mark Zuckerberg had been a student in Mazur’s class before he created Facebook, which initially had an interface that looked a lot like Mazur’s web community.)
During class, instead of Mazur only lecturing, he focuses on exploring the questions students have raised from their reading. And he throws the questions back to the students, asking them to work with a peer to solve them, and defending their answers. Mazur then walks around the class to listen to students, so he can examine their thinking, and correct misperceptions. "What was once homework (answering questions assigned by the teacher) is now schoolwork," said November.
Today, Mazur’s contribution has grown from 20 percent to 85 percent, which November attributes to teaching that is driven by students’ questions gathered on the community website, where students teach other students what they know, and where the teacher has a much firmer grasp of what their students’ understand or fail to understand and can work as a diagnostician to address misperceptions.
November drove the message home by taking attendees via YouTube inside a public high school near Detroit to Grey Green Clintondale, which has found similar success by transforming the way education happens.
“We’ve been doing technology a long time,” says November. “We cannot simply give every kid a laptop and every teacher a smartboard and think we’ve done it.” The transformation will involve taking a more student-centered approach.