After reading Fullan’s A Rich Seam, I now see better Hamilton-Wentworth DSB’s mission to transform learning “rather, we are engaged in a process to enhance instruction, to invite students to engage in rich learning tasks and to rely on students to drive the learning environment, supported by technology”. Digital learning is not optional according to this school board but a must to support student success in the digital world. The HWDSB believes that technology is a tool that enhances the learning process and influences how students learn. I have found that at my school some teachers use technology to simply duplicate existing practices on-line, for example, using a SMART board as a glorified chalk board. At my school as the sole IT teacher in a stand-alone classroom of 40 computers hardwired to the internet, I am eager to see how the 1:1 tablet device to staff/student is an effective way to create personalized, collaborative, inquiry-based learning environment. The more obvious advantage is that it provides equitable access to technology for each student in the school board.
Fullan talks about new models of learning partnerships between and among students and teachers which result in deep learning goals enabled or supported by the inescapable use of digital technology. It is like an updated 21st century take on the teacher as ‘guide on the side’ where teachers not only do not deliver content in their area of specialization but also do no define the parameters of the learning experience in the classroom. This new learning partnership requires mutual collaboration between student and teacher. Technology therefore is used to discover and master content knowledge which will enable the deep learning goals Fullan talks about in this study. This shift for teachers from traditional roles of teachers as the primary sources of content knowledge will be a major challenge for some teachers at my school. This was the training they received and this is their current experience as teachers. I myself am unsure of this new partnership role and what that will look like in my classroom with my students. Instead of focusing on covering all required content how do I focus on my students’ learning process? How do current curriculum standards and standardized assessments (which mostly measures content reproduction) adopt new pedagogies like the ones Fullan presents to us?
A quote that resonated with me was by Will Richardson who says of these relationships, “teachers must be co-learners with kids, expert at asking great, open-ended questions and modelling the learning process required to answer those questions. Teachers should be master learners” (Fullan, 2014, p.14). This is something I have tried hard to practice in my teaching. In my multi-week projects I have embedded open-ended style questions to complex real world problems that do not have one right answer. What this allows is for all my students to succeed in whatever learning they decide to take on. Therefore, mastering one’s own learning should be a natural progression to deepen students’ awareness of how they function in the learning process. Then what is the new role for the teacher?
According to Fullan, teachers do not have less of a role but rather a highly proactive one in driving the learning process forward, using strategies that work best. This new active role does not mean teachers let students learn on their own necessarily but instead help them master the process of learning. This is achieved by helping students define their own learning goals, helping students pursue those same goals and supporting them along the way. This is how Fullan sees as an entry point into the new pedagogies he outlines in his paper. I often think of how descriptive feedback plays such an important role when supporting my students’ learning process. I think the right words at the right moment can inspire students to pursue directions they may not have considered before the teacher’s feedback. This supports the idea that teachers are learning alongside students and students alongside teachers.
I enjoyed reading throughout Fullan’s paper the examples of schools that were already implementing deep learning tasks. I appreciated hearing about teachers who allow their students to become leaders of their own learning. Students were able to define and pursue their own learning goals using the resources, tools, and connections that digital access and technology enables. It was especially nice seeing several references to schools in Ontario that were ‘ahead’ of the rest of us in terms of this new paradigm shift in new pedagogies of a constructivist orientation. This means that schools are beginning to buy into this concept as we can see with the Hamilton-Wentworth DSB.