Let’s say four friends decide to do some fall fishing. All four have varying degrees of experience and success with fishing. For this particular outing, however, one individual, Aaron, is better prepared than the others. His grandfather owns a cottage on the lake, and he has fished here far more often than his friends have. So when they get out on the water, the others will naturally ask Aaron when they have questions about depths, structures, and baits. But they will also share their own ideas about fishing in these conditions. In a setting like this, friends simply work together, and, in the process, they learn new things, experience some success (in this case, catch some fish), and have a good time.
A 21st century classroom should function pretty much like the friends in the boat do—with individuals working (and learning) together to achieve a particular goal, and you, the instructor, serving as the lead learner—the person who knows the lake best. As you learn along with your students, you also provide the necessary leadership and guidance to keep the boat afloat and moving in the right direction.
10 Tips for Being a Lead Learner
- Marvel at and show interest in all types of ideas and events—past, present, and future.
- Promote learning through inquiry (questioning), collaboration, testing, rethinking, and so on—an authentic process that occurs in the science lab, in the workplace,
. . . and on the lake.
- Provide students with the freedom to explore and to learn, but with reasonable expectations for class conduct and outcomes serving as ballast.
- Help the class to discover or initiate meaningful learning opportunities (projects, contests, events).
- Plan the projects with your students—establishing goals, identifying individual and group work, making deadlines, and so on.
- Develop a working knowledge of resources available to students during projects.
- Encourage full participation. This may mean conducting daily status checks—noting what each student is working on that day.
- Stay involved—listening, contributing, encouraging, stepping in, backing off . . .
- Watch for and use teachable moments to share and discuss a strategy or discovery, either “right now” or in an upcoming minilesson. (See below.)
- Expect to learn many things every day.
A Day in the Life of . . . Inquiry-Based Learners
Consider following these general guidelines to structure your daily class and keep learners on task:
Address skills, strategies, or “issues” as needed.
Find out what students are working on for the day.
Brainstorming, researching, problem solving, creating, etc.
Conducting Learning Minilessons
As the lead learner, keep the learning needs of your students in mind as they work on their projects. Your direct involvement in daily activities will give you a good idea of what’s working and what may need to be fixed. For example, you may notice that some students are using unreliable Web sites in their research. This would qualify as a “teachable moment,” the perfect time for a minilesson (a brief lesson, maybe 5–10 minutes long, that provides instruction in context—when it is needed the most).
To address the problem, you could quickly review with students what to watch for in a Web site (see pages 160–161 in Inquire) and then demonstrate the key issues by visiting a reliable site as well as a questionable one. This may be all that it takes to correct your students’ research course, for now.
Consider implementing minilessons for any issue related to 21st century learning, from problem solving to understanding media, from conducting research to creating audio-visual projects. And be sure to have your fellow learners, your students, implement them as well. Everyone can share in the teaching and learning.