Over the last twenty years or so there has been a concerted effort to push the teacher to one side. We have been exhorted not to be the sage on the stage but to be the guide on the side. The noble name of teacher has been eschewed for grandiose titles such as Facilitator or Educator! Now don’t get me wrong! I am not saying that I am against student-centred learning and teaching – far from it! I am a died-in-the-wool, card-carrying Constructivist. Students can only learn when they are actively involved in their own learning. Whether your vision of how students learn leans more towards Piaget or Vygotsky, the centrality of active student learning underpins everything I am about to say!
I am not advocating the return of the lecture either, or somehow saying that teachers don’t talk enough. We talk way more than we should! The point I would like to make, however, is that by pushing the sage-on-the-stage aside, we have lost a sense of the importance of the teacher in mediating content knowledge. Self-discovery is a wonderful thing when it happens, but it cannot happen without extensive scaffolding. A guide-on-the-side is simply not enough to achieve all this. Too often teachers have been encouraged to desert the centre of the classroom and become glorified managers. We have to assume that teachers have something worth teaching, and put the teacher back in control. What we need is the meddler-in-the-middle – a teacher who rolls up his sleeves and actively scaffolds and mediates students’ learning experiences.
This is equally true for the teacher who uses digital technologies in the classroom. Simply saying to a class, “Google the oil industry and write an essay for Monday,” will not achieve much. You need to actively teach students how to use a search engine effectively, how to take notes and how to construct that information into an essay. None of it just happens! Of course the students need to do the research for themselves, and write the essay themselves, but the way in which a teacher scaffolds and models the task is what makes all the difference.
I’m not saying that teachers need to be totally on top of a technology before encouraging students to use it – it’s quite OK for a teacher to learn to use something new alongside students. In fact it’s a very positive thing. Students need to see what strategies adults use to accomplish unfamiliar tasks. You’d be surprised how students don’t think to Google for help when they get stuck on how to do something when using some software. And yet this is exactly how professionals do it! When we upgraded our Adobe suite from CS3 to CS6 it was a wonderful opportunity to show students how to search for help, and use tutorials on the Internet. A good meddler-in-the-middle is always modelling thinking and organization strategies. A good meddler-in-the-middle is constantly circulating, and showing, explaining to the whole class when necessary, and taking student’s problems seriously – sitting down and talking it through, challenging students to take it to the next level and try for something harder.
I don’t know! How could we find out? Has anyone found out how to …? Maybe we could …? Are you sure? That looks right, but how could we check?