"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Learner-Centered Education

DepEd's K to 12 curriculum is advertised as learner-centered. It focuses on the optimum development of the Filipino child. (K to 12 Toolkit: Reference Guide for Teacher Educators, School Administrators, and Teachers, 2012) These two sentences are quite loaded and upon closer examination, these statements are actually very problematic. First, there are two major actors inside the classroom, the teacher and the students. Learner- versus teacher-centered in education is clearly a false dichotomy. Such thinking only sows an unnecessary disaccord between teaching and learning. Second, emphasizing the Filipino child suggests that education is racially dependent. The United States is a melting pot and studies have firmly established that "within-group differences exceed between-group differences". With these precarious and misguided principles, arriving at a poorly designed curriculum therefore becomes inevitable.

Knowledge should not be constructed in a vacuum. Otherwise, we would always be reinventing the wheel. With technology, information is likewise widely available. Unfortunately, misinformation is fairly abundant on the internet. Take, for instance, the following article from TechInAsia:


This TechInAsia article underscores the title by stating that "The lighting system doesn’t require electricity, batteries or even fuel to run. All it needs are two basic and natural things: salt and water." Fortunately, after about 15 paragraphs, a direct quote from the inventor is provided:
The product is not rocket science, says Mijeno. In fact, the whole idea behind it is taught in high school chemistry classes. “If you did the lemon-battery experiment, that’s basically it. Two different metals submerged in electrolytes will produce electricity. For us, we used saltwater.”
Thus, the metals used as electrodes actually power the lamp, no different from a battery. Saltwater is simply the medium used. In confronting information such as the one above, it does become evident that a teacher is necessary and the need is obviously not just for a facilitator. Maryellen Weimer writes in Faculty Focus:
...faculty are the definitive content experts in the classroom and our knowledge and experiences can be immensely helpful to students as they work to master course material and eventually find their way to careers and lives that matter.
Improving education does not happen by demoting the teacher's role. Being learner-centered does not mean abandoning the need for high quality teachers. What it requires is that teachers recognize the students' needs for participation, engagement and feedback. A curriculum or instruction should not be based on what policymakers perceive as where students are. This is guess work and not evidence-based. These decisions need to be made inside the classroom. And such decision can only be properly made through correctly assessing where a student currently stands.

With the above in mind, it is therefore not surprising what factors may actually lead to greater learning in the classroom. Peter deWitt in an article in EducationWeek reminds us of what matters most in improving education. The effect sizes (enclosed in parenthesis) as reported by John Hattie in his book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement are included in this list.

  • Teacher-student relationships (0.72) - Knowing the hinge point is a .40 effect size, we can see that teacher-student relationships can have an enormous effect on learning. Russ Quaglia found that students who believe their teachers like them will try harder in those classrooms.
  • Parental involvement  (0.59) - These two words together can sometimes make us cringe. School has often been a place where teachers make decisions and home is a place where parents make decisions. The bottom line is that parental involvement is very important, because parents can help support their children at home.
  • Feedback (0.75) - Bottom line. We say we give feedback but we are usually providing praise or a grade. Praise and grades do very little to move learning forward. 
  • Teacher clarity (0.75) - This is another place where confirmation bias enters into the equation. We think that we are being clear as we provide directions to students, because we have all of the information in our heads. Unfortunately, when we speak we don't provide exemplars or the clearest directions so students sit and look around at what their peers are doing to help them process the information we gave.
  • Micro-teaching - (0.88) Grab your smartphone, a Swivl and start recording. Micro-teaching means we video ourselves teaching for 15 minutes. When the students are gone and we are alone, we sit back and watch ourselves on video. The first time is merely to get through how we dressed that day and what our hair looked like.
  • Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset  (0.19) - The growth mindset won't work as well as it should because we do a lot of talking about it but we treat students in fixed ways. 
With the above, it becomes clear why sufficient classrooms are necessary. With the above, it becomes evident why teachers need a great deal of support. With the above, it becomes obvious why the teacher holds a very important place in each and every classroom.


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