Learning any time, anywhere….from anyone?

“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
– Attributed to George Whitman

Many of us, I hesitate to say all, would be familiar with the slogan learning; any time, anywhere and how it is often applied to contemporary pedagogical* movements as a type of panacea for education and improved learning outcomes. I write that as someone who has said and written it, acknowledging that that particular outcome of contemporary pedagogy is valid in its own right. At the same time, I acknowledge that it has always been the case (as evidenced by the saying every day is s school day but that our idea of what learning is and how it occurs has changed over the last twenty years or so.

I made the choice over the break, upon reflecting upon the skills and concepts that I had yet to cover with my students, to focus on learning one skill or concept very well for this term, rather than attempting to get through everything for the sake of covering all of my program. It seems to make sense to myself, and the students, on the whole, agreed with me when I have explained the situation to them over the course of yesterday and today. For Stage Three, we are looking at research skills, specifically, the ability to take good quality notes, a skill which I do not recall ever being explicitly taught, yet which is an assumed skill in both secondary school and definitely in tertiary education.

This term I am attempting to provide my Stage Three students with skills that will help them avoid the mistakes I and many of my classmates in both high school and university made, in frantically trying to copy down every single word, in not having any sort of structure to the notes, other than, perhaps, indented dot-points. I went so far as to bring in and show my students a copy of my Honours Thesis, explaining how long it was required to be, and then showing them the notes that I had made in doing my research of the literature. We talked about the benefits of good note-taking skills, not just in academic terms, but in the way that it helps to organise your thoughts and ideas.

This week was an introduction to the layout of the Cornell Note-Taking Strategy, how you set out a page, what each section is used for and a discussion of the various ways that we become more efficient note-takers through the use of abbreviations and acronyms that are contextually appropriate. I found that some of my students were struggling to understand the purpose of the left hand column, the cue word column and I was working to formulate a different explanation of the use when one of the students put it to me like this:

Is it like how when I read something for a project, I just write down the main idea of each paragraph?

Such a simple explanation, and when I used that explanation with the next class, a large number of light bulbs flicked on. It reinforced to me that even though I am the teacher, I am still a learner. This Year Six student handed me another way of explaining a skill that I had not thought of, that enabled a number of other students to engage and understand the concept that I was teaching.

*I refuse to call it twenty-first century learning anymore. That particular phrase, to my mind, something that implied forward thinking and being ahead of the curve. We are now fifteen years, coming up to sixteen years into the twenty-first century. If you are not doing twenty-first century teaching and learning, you are likely behind the curve. I also acknowledge that a some of what is considered twenty-first century learning is actually what was old, is once again, new. The skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, listed as being twenty-first century skills are not, in fact, modern at all. They are skills that have been taught in a variety of formats, often implicitly for many years, but have been done without being explicitly taught as critical thinking, or explicitly taught as problem solving.

I do realise the apparent juxtaposition of that statement given my Twitter handle and the name of this blog, however I view those more as a statement of when rather than what I am teaching.