It’s surprising how fast children begin learning. From their first words, their first steps, or their first day of preschool, they’re full of curiosity, and that’s only satisfied by engaging in their own problem-solving. Furthermore, each child learns their own process for getting what they want (or need).
Perhaps one child who wants a snack learns they can sneak a few cookies from the package because Mom is busy on the phone. Another child learns that mom will catch them immediately, so they ask mom for a piece of fruit. They’ve both attained the same goal (a snack), but their circumstances require that they go about it in different ways – and even end up with different results. But this opportunity to experiment and learn often disappears as soon as they walk through a classroom door.
The middle path isn’t always the best.
Most K-12 schools are destination-based environments where the process doesn’t matter nearly as much as the outcome. Students follow the same predetermined path as their peers to reach the intended goal: graduation. The U.S. education system largely follows this model, forcing teachers and education professionals to “teach to the middle.”
The proliferation of scripted and mandated curriculums that teachers must teach, and even the progression of standards that students are expected to master over the course of the school year, can provoke in teachers a kind of straight-line thinking: “I have to teach this lesson so that I can teach the next lesson, and I have to have taught all of these lessons by the end of the school year (or semester).”
But kids don’t always learn in the same way as their peers or at the same speeds. Students who don’t keep up and students who are bored because they already know what’s being taught are often disadvantaged by this system, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Physically and intellectually disabled students, as well as autistic students, may have their unique learning needs overlooked.
Students who don’t grasp the material or the skill when it’s taught may find themselves lost as the teacher continues on because the teacher must stay on schedule.
Refocusing on how students learn
It’s unrealistic to ask teachers to stop focusing on their lessons or their required curriculum. However, new teaching strategies are almost always based on student learning. Teachers can try new strategies to encourage students to try different ways of approaching the subject material:
But the emphasis needs to be on what students learned rather than on what teachers taught – even with a mandated curriculum.
It’s improper to say that teachers shouldn’t focus on standardized tests or common curriculum or standards. However, shifting the focus from teaching the curriculum to students learning the curriculum encourages multiple learning opportunities, practicing, performing, and – most importantly – reflection.
Reflect on the process
By focusing on instructional strategies, the teacher focuses on what the students are doing with the skills and material they’re learning. But the students may not recognize that the activities they are working through are helping them to learn.
Teachers should have students reflect on the process and its effect on their final product. How did students arrive at the end of the unit or project or assignment? What would they do differently if they were to do it again? What can they apply to other lessons or classes or activities? If students were trying new soft skills like critical thinking, collaboration, or problem-solving, they might be asked how they navigated those processes.
This one, not-so-simple task moves teachers away from teaching to the middle and gets them looking at students individually. They can help students see how lessons and classes are related and how they transfer learning processes across disciplines.
Ask autistic students for a factual account before guiding them through reflections with additional questions.
Writing tasks aren’t always the best option. Students might be able to draw a chart, create a timeline or speak their reflections better.
Ultimately, by getting students to look back at their own process, teachers can see how individual students have progressed and identify areas of both strength and need to make sure that all students are supported on their learning journey.
Learn more about how RoboKind’s robots4STEM program offers all students, regardless of ethnicity or gender, a chance to learn foundational coding and programming skills at their own pace.