Teachers – If we don’t adapt, will we fail our students?

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Talk to any educator and it seems they identify the same problems in schools today.

  • Not enough time.
  • Too much red tape.
  • Data overload.
  • Micro management.
  • Exam pressure.

In my time as a teacher there have been numerous battles fought at a national, county and school level with few outcomes in the favour of learners. We have all sorts of measurements and comparisons and checks. We have the students’ best interests at heart and we definitely want them to do well and be prepared for life. Yet schools, and the conversations surrounding them, feel weighed down by too many factors that inhibit learning.

If I’m honest I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon, particularly with the impending exam reforms. Consequently, as a teacher, I cannot control the time I have physically with the students, only the learning experience I expect.

Enter flexible learning.

Now, I am not trying to state that this is a new concept and I am certainly not about to state anything revolutionary. The point is, there are barriers to the choices I can make as a teacher, but I can now access tools to overcome those barriers.

I want students to have access to content delivery from me to ensure they feel they are being guided in the right way. Whether the ‘flipped’ classroom concept is something you subscribe to, the screencasts that are created for it serve many purposes. If you have a bank of ‘direct instruction’ videos that are made of keynote presentations, videos and your explanation, you have the basis of a flexible learning environment – and here’s why…

The videos can:

  • Prepare students for the next lesson
  • Serve as the stimulus for a cover lesson and activity in your absence
  • Act as a point of reference for a student who needs help in a lesson
  • Underpin a revision programme for an individual or group of students
  • Allow you a ‘safety net’ to cope with the demands of a 21st century school

This last point is an important one. Modular exams, illness, field trips and sports fixtures have left my A level classes decimated by absence. This is a fact in our schools today. It has happened every year for as far back as I can remember and it seems little can be done about it.

With this approach, I don’t have to see the students face to face in order to educate them. Of course, it isn’t the ideal scenario but I no longer feel like I am letting them down. An actual lesson is just one opportunity to educate the students, not the only opportunity.

There are a number of tools that facilitate this environment and this has certainly been made easier in recent years:

  • Edmodo – acts as a VLE without the need to login through the school server. A central store of resources as well as assignment collection and student interaction.
  • Twitter – the perfect platform for resource sharing, student chat and discovery
  • iPad – the instant-on device that enables the students to access the resources. Essential for the way my teaching has developed, together with screencast production.

It might not be right for everyone, but if a student needs help in the classroom, appropriate time is now available. The ability to have individual contact with every student in every lesson can’t be underestimated. Similarly, if a student requires help at home, they have a secure means of communication. This isn’t practical all the time but setting up timeslots for students to ask questions in the evening can have a real benefit. As long as the students know they night not receive immediate feedback outside of these slots, it works very well.

Flexible learning or ‘24/7‘ learning has been discussed for many years. I don’t think modern schools can afford to ignore the concept as time in the classroom is so precious and often disrupted. Developing an environment, where classroom time is just one point of contact, frees the students and educators to enjoy a breadth of learning. It also reduces the pressure on time when so many lessons are affected by absence.

I am sure the ability to adapt the learning environment has been made possible by new technologies as the time taken to produce the resources is reduced. I for one am glad I decided to move away from the way I was taught to educate and look forward to flexibility underpinning my teaching in the future.

I welcome any thoughts on flexible learning and the impact it can have.