For me, teaching is joyful when you feel that you are both leading and participating in a collaborative problem-solving team tackling real-world problems. This I tweeted recently in response to a twitter inquiry: what brings you joy in teaching.
I was taken by the parallels of my view and Wesch’s when viewing this video and hearing his argument that the best way we can teach students “knowledge-ability” is to ask them to tackle real-world, challenging problems, problems we don’t know the answer to, and then lead and guide them as a collaborative team in addressing those problems, while facilitating their use of the best available tools to address these problems.
Knowledgeable is what we call people who have learned a lot of material, a lot of content; I don’t think Michael is saying that we no longer want knowledgeable students. He is saying that they need to be more than that, they need to be knowledge-able: they need to be able to construct their own knowledge, to make their own meaning, and to have the tools and skills to effectively and compellingly critically think, communicate, create, and collaborate on-line. He is also saying that this is no longer a TV watching generation: it is one which thrills to two-way participatory environments and is dulled senseless by one-way communication channels. The knowledge they need to acquire they need to learn by working with content, not absorbing it.
In looking back over the past five years to identify the key handful of “moments” when I became energized and inspired to embrace and advocate a new vision of learning in our new fast-changing era, I know that watching Michael Wesch’s students’ famous, brilliant, and chill-inducing video, A View of Students Today, was one of the main ones. Watch and see if you don’t shiver, and see if your own worldview of learning does not change.
I was incredibly honored when someone told me last month that my predecessor, in 2009, as keynoter of the NYSAIS NEIT conference was Michael Wesch: I think Michael is a genius, and I wonder if he has been nominated for the MacArthur genius award. This TED video, highly recommended, is his elaboration upon that famous “View” video, and it is a very important contribution to rethinking education for our times.
Wesch demonstrates such empathetic and genuine respect for who are students are today, and works from that sincere empathy to seek to change how we educate to make it engaging, meaningful, and productive. He connects his understanding of his students with his understanding of the world: a world, he says, of ubiquitous information, media, and resources, available in a moment’s click, and he makes the conclusion: “multiple choice exams are incredibly silly in this era.” We need to ask, support, and team with our students to confront their world, identify the problems that are meaningful to them, and develop the knowledge and skills they need to tackle them, with the tools they carry with them and they use in every other part of their life.
But asking them to sit and listen; asking our students to repeat back to us what we told them or asked them to read, or to apply mindlessly formulas and rote techniques, isn’t going to do either of the things we need to do: engage or prepare.
Now I know that many, many, many middle and secondary school teachers don’t teach that way, but in my own first hand observations, many, many still do. Watching Wesch, and listening to him, is a great way for each us as educators to begin or advance our journey toward more meaningful and preparatory learning.
(I revised and published recently on Connected Principals my essay on “Lessons Learned Shadowing Students: The Five P’s of engaging and effective classroom learning”: it is an elaboration upon these ideas and is very much informed by Wesch’s vision. It also offers detailed and concrete techniques for enacting the kind of classroom practices that I think enact Wesch’s goals for student learning.)