Information Discovery and Teacher Development

I don’t deliver information to students at all.

I didn’t in 1995.

Information discovery has always been my primary mode of instruction. I provide a challenge – give students resources – step back – facilitate as needed and watch the learning happen.

In 1995 this wasn’t an easy task. I went to the library and checked out every resource I could about the topic we were exploring (we called these resources books). I lugged them to my classroom and spread them out on a table in the middle of the room. I introduced these resources to students, and when they began to explore I supported them, helping them to find the information they had targeted and then translating that information for them if it was over their reading level or if it surpassed their attention span. Of course I depended heavily on peer groups as students discovered: capitalizing on students’ abilities to restate information to each other.

We didn’t have the internet in the classroom then. My principal was an AOL user, and Al Gore hadn’t fully invented the internet, yet. We’d be pulling cables through schools the next year during the NetDay activities, but at that time access meant dialup. To my principal, dialup meant AOL. And that meant you pay per minute, and that was expensive. So, no.

I printed out web sites and brought them to school. My students participated in a Holocaust Survivor listserv, asking questions of the members and receiving responses. My students pre-dated the Web 2.0 culture, but they were interacting with others even in our Web 1.0 time.

Fast forward and we are now in that environment I needed as a 7th grade English teacher. I have said that the internet is the perfect constructivist tool – and I would have to add – social constructivist tool. What an amazing time to be an educator.

Now I am a teacher of teachers. While I don’t deliver information, I know that others believe that they must. I influence them slightly by trying to make sure that if they deliver information it is pared down to the necessary (what they feel is the necessary). I try to help them to make their material digestible – to cut it down into small enough chunks that learners don’t choke on facts. I have tried delivering my own philosophy of education to developing teachers, and had exactly as much success in this as my own teachers had as they tried to “tell” me “facts”. Ultimately I find myself returning to the information discovery model.

I believe in Piaget, and I believe that information is accepted when the individual’s cognitive structure is well-developed enough to receive it. So as I hear these calls for change – demands for adherence to a 21st century methodology I stand in awe of the visionary, cheering him on.  But I still help teachers to figure out how to deliver their lectures in a more abbreviated and relevant manner and I challenge them to let go of coverage citing Wiggins and Jensen and even Dewey for heaven’s sake.

At the end of it all, I am a teacher. I have to ask myself: we teach our children with openness, patience and the confidence that they will develop, step by step, to the point that they will accept information.We have patience with their creations and their beliefs, and challenge them to even more sophistication as they evolve as learners in our specific discipline. Shouldn’t we approach teachers who are learners of technology in the same way?

I have seen developing teachers move out of their comfort zones. They need support. They need a somewhat low-risk environment. They need a great deal of time to talk about what they are experiencing, the problems they might be having, the successes that they see. I have seen teachers develop into 21st century educators. And it takes time. I see a lot of people who want to tell teachers what they need to do and stop doing in the classroom. These are the same people who claim they teach and don’t tell in the classroom. I think there is a disconnect.

I think we have to approach teachers and professional development with the same enthusiasm and sensitivity that we approach learners in a digital classroom. Because if you think the learning curve for teachers will get anything but steeper as technology evolves, well, you must be living in 1995.

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