Monday, September 6, 2010

DIY learners

I read Will Richardson's blog post on DIY (do it yourself) learners a while ago. It is actually his commentary on Alan Levine's blog post on the same topic. I believe that one of the main ideas in 21st century learning is DIY learning. As is often the case, I can't (nor can Will Richardson evidently!) say it better than Alan Levine. He says,

"What is going to motivate the large swath of a society to become educated or to learn something in a self-directed fashion? It’s one thing to be facing a need that I need to to know first hand– how to fix a bike dérailleur, how to stop a leaking toilet, how to bake a lemon meringue pie how to add a widget to a web page– these are all places DIY shines, when I know that I don’t know something and want to fill that gap. It is clear when I don’t know something I want to know. Lots of people do this. But what is going to drive people to learn what they don’t think they need to learn? What they don’t know is worth learning? In a DIY world with people tooling up for a better job, are they going to DIY their way into poetry? French literature? Is the limits of education the things we need to know how to perform/get a job? That a bothersome underlying under toe in DIY U- that the purpose of education is to end up in a job. That feels…. lifeless"

I have had similar experience wil DIY learning in my class. I suppose that for all of us educators, the goal has always been to find something/some way to students to connect and find meaning in curriculum. The biggest problem 18th century education faced was that everybody was taught the same things at the same time in the same way. Alfie Kohn writes extensively about this and how it needs to change in "Schools Our Children Deserve".

Even in the age of technology, the challenge remains for educators to help kids connect with curricular concepts. I have not found the magic pill to make that happen. I do know though, that technology gives us a fighting chance to differentiate learning for each student. My model for my classroom is that I teach them all some background concepts, knowledge and skills that they will be held responsible to know and then I expect them to take their learning further in a more specific, yet related area, in the form of a critical thinking project. I also give them time to use their blog to become an expert on a topic of their choice and to develop a learning network (on-line and off-line).

This is my model in a nutshell. It should work but doesn't with every student on every project. Just because we have technology and are trying really hard doesn't mean every student buys in. Differentiated learning is a much harder model and without the skills to develop their learning community, it can be hard work for one teacher in the room. The point is to develop to the point where the teacher is just a part of the learning community and not the center.

The cost of not continuing to use the 18th century model is too high as illustrated by Levine:

"Is it any wonder they can’t “take charge of their own education” when that self-directed love of learning on their own was driven out of them by second grade, when no one has ever allowed them to or taught them how do that?"

I am still a believer in the possibility of DIY learners in my classroom. Even if they develop this ability slower than I would like it is still a better model than the traditional.

Let's continue to strive to create thinking, problem solving, creative, collaborative, self directed, DIY learners in our schools.

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