Teaching, learning and technology

 

Sir, – Education at its simplest presumes a student who wants to learn and a teacher who is willing to teach. That’s the dynamic driving a wonderful relationship which makes the classroom such an exciting place. But it is the human relationship which is its primary driver. Students can challenge as well as question, contribute for the good of the class or just for the fun of it. The effective teacher knows that, in the boxing analogy, you will never “win” a classroom session by a knockout. The students can’t allow that as it wouldn’t be cool. If at the end of a lesson, if you are ahead on points, that’s enough.

Technology is marvellous, no question. Its ability to enable endless online forums is as fantastic as it is frustrating. All too often online sessions fall apart in a mayhem of broken links, frozen screens and lost participants. Once confidence in the system is undermined it is difficult to re-establish. It is difficult to maintain a human relationship online in the absence of all the sensory clues of the classroom.

If online learning is to succeed, it will need comprehensive investment in hardware, software, maintenance and essential ongoing staff training. It will take a change in mindset by all involved. It has potential but it’s no panacea. It lacks the human touch, the banter and exchange of human encounter. – Yours, etc,

DENIS BATES,

Shannon,

Co Clare.

Sir, – Technology is a useful tool for those who can use and access it. However, there are numerous teachers, parents and children who will not have access to technology or who may not be able to engage with “online classes and support” as intended.

What messages are we really sending home about “learning” to parents and students alike? How best can we utilise methodologies and activities that are meaningful for learners? What can we achieve with and for our children when they are not in school?

In the context of 21st-century learning, most of us acknowledge that the drill, practice and test focus in our schools is not preparing students for the modern world. This increasingly unpredictable world requires a zest for challenging ill-defined problems, an ability to see things through, and the resilience to bounce back from setbacks. It requires the desire and the ability to do this over and over again.

The Department of Education has already embarked on redeveloping the primary school curriculum where “learning to be a learner” is to become one of the central goals. In this, an unprecedented time of school closure, we have a golden opportunity to shift the focus from school tasks and activities to the world of the learner and hopefully in doing so we will empower our learners in skills for learning for life. Let us use this time away from school not just for curricular tasks but to explore children’s understanding of themselves as learners.

We need to think differently about the times we find ourselves in right now. We need to shift from a teaching focus, in which the teacher transfers knowledge to the pupil, to an emphasis on learner autonomy, learner responsibility and learner ownership. We need to put our learners in the driving seat of their own learning and demonstrate that the capacity to learn is itself learnable. We can begin to cultivate a shift towards this understanding by not overburdening teachers, parents and children with countless well-intentioned home school packs, website links and online classes.

“Learning to be a learner” extends far beyond content knowledge and academic skills and any activities at home that encourage curiosity, collaboration, imagination and creativity, joy, attention, memory, effort or organisation are just as important, if not more important, than the worksheets, the homework activities and tasks.

We need to reassure parents that even in the ordinary everyday hustle and bustle of home life, parents are helping children to be learners.

Educators and teachers need to think about the purpose and meaning of assigned tasks and activities online or in home packs. Can we use this time to power-up our learners, teach them the language, skills and strategies for independent learning? Can we use resources and programmes that focus not on curricular subject areas but on learning “how” to learn? Can we invite our learners, at this time, to steer their own learning – encourage learner narratives, self-evaluations and reflections on the language and skills for learning to be a learner?

And for our little learners, can we steer attention away from colouring to critical learning skills like listening, curiosity, imagination, creativity, joy and collaboration? Can we devise even just one daily challenge that helps our learners develop the capacity to be independent and autonomous learners for life?

In doing so, time away from school could be reframed perhaps not as a loss of learning time but as an opportunity to explore other dimensions and ways of learning for life. – Yours, etc,

Dr SUZANNE PARKINSON,

Educational Psychologist,

Mary Immaculate College,

Limerick.