In an effort to model, in a small way, the kind of learning we were advocating, our session this afternoon was structured into multiple parts.  Rhonda Durham, ISAS ED, presented first, with a very eye-appealing introduction via powerpoint (in the best possible way) the NAIS Commission report on 21st century essential capacities.

Mark Desjardins, the Head of Holland Hall offered next an excellent overview of what students need to learn for their future; he quoted a key officer of innovation at Cisco, who told Mark that the most important habit of mind is “intellectual empathy.”  Mark also spoke with great information about changes happening in colleges and universities, which he explained are very different from how they were even five years ago, and we have to respond accordingly.

After my presentation, (previous post), participants (all Heads of Southwest schools) wrote “blink” responses to seven questions (after the jump, below), and then met in groups to choose three of the seven for further discussion. After 25 minutes, each group shared.    Below is the list of questions in the order of popularity, from most often discussed to least.  Beneath each I have provided some of the comments made in the sharing session.

1. 21st century teachers: how do we best facilitate our teachers’ evolution to contemporary teaching and learning?  What forms of professional development are called for? (10 votes)

No topic garnered nearly as much interest as this one; clearly if we are to move vigorously to a new model of teaching and learning, it can and will only happen with and by our teachers.  Comments varied widely: one head spoke to say we have to realize teachers have the most to lose in this transition; another said that this is the most important topic because teachers are the most resistant to change.  One said hiring well was essential, another that we have to help teachers teach each other.  A point was made that only when society truly values this alternate format of learning will teachers and schools respond.   This topic caused much concern: if students and teachers have such different worldviews today, how will we find the way to bridge the divide?

2. 21st century students: How different are they, and how must we respond to their differences? (7 votes)

Lots of important and concerned comments on this topic also.  From the elementary side of the room there were several Heads remarking that they were awfully concerned about the speed at which kids move these days, and we need to change the pace and help them settle down and focus and reflect and be still and mindful.   Some called for balance as a priority; another volunteered the fascinating observation that students are so differently wired today that it almost like for some, it seems, they only begin to learn when the leave school, and do the activities that matter most to them (gaming?).  It was said teachers are finding these kids learn so very intuitively, that these are the kids that never read the instruction manual but just take the wii out of the box and start tinkering until they figure it out– what does this imply for our classroom learning?

3. 21st century assessment: Does traditional letter grading continue to be effective as a measurement and an incentive for what we want students to learn, or does 21st century learning require new format assessments?  If so, what assessment techniques are required for 21st century learning? (five votes)

Less discussion than votes on this one.  One said this is very important; another asked how do you assess things like curiosity, initiative, and innovation?

4. 21st century skills: Does the NAIS list hit the mark? Does a new/renewed emphasis on skill entail a diminishment of knowledge learning?(3 votes)

One respondent reported liking the NAIS list, but that there is an importance to balancing skills and knowledge.   Two other heads reported concern in their groups that more focus on skills does mean less learning of knowledge; as one said: “we are not ready yet to let go of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”

5. 21st century curriculum: Does 21st century learning demand a new/renewed attention to inquiry, relevance, and/or project/problem based learning, or are these alternate approaches too problematic to adopt wide scale? (three votes)

Some groups chose this question as the best opportunity to assert, vigorously, that these 21st century skills and methods are NOT new!  Socratic teaching embraced many of them, and Dewey and Sizer both advocated for a progressivism that much resembles these priorities.  One said we need the curriculum to counter contemporary “wired” minds, and instead promote learning that is reflective, quiet, mindful.  Another head suggested that many of these things are learned effectively in co-curricular programs such as debate team and model UN, and we should encourage to highlight these.

6. 21st century learning technology: Does contemporary learning require a large or larger role for laptops and other digital tools in the classroom, and what are the pros and cons of “wired” classrooms? (3 votes)

One head reported concern from the table group that it is counter-productive to jump in without curriculum already in place, that we need to make sure technology supports learning goals, rather than driving them.  Another urged balance when bringing technology to younger children.

7. 21st century instruction: How must it change, and how can we accomplish this?  (2 votes)

Comments: “Our kids feel that when they come to school, everything slows way down for them.”  “the important thing is learning by doing.”  “We need to make learning more meaningful for kids.”

The above come from my quickly transcribed notes.  I welcome any comments on the above discussion, especially from blog visitors who participated in the session (did I get any of it wrong?).  Take this opportunity to offer your own answers to the questions, or to endorse/counter some of the comments above.