If we check into the schools our children of the 21st century are studying at, we can sometimes easily relate to our own classrooms 30 years ago. The furniture might be a little more modern and the blackboard may have been replaced for an interactive white board or a computer, but the teacher is still standing in front of a line of desk, lecturing students who are passively listening or silently taking notes. Especially in the language classrooms.
We have come a long way in theory, discussing about our students’ 21st century skills and needs, insisting upon how important it is to implement technology in the classroom, enhancing our students’ soft skills and making them think critically. Nevertheless, when we walk through the front gates of most schools, we can easily be entering a school of the 1970´s.
Why is it so difficult to change?
I believe that what we do and how we live often defines us. It defines whether we are an active person or perhaps an introspective and reflective person. It defines whether we are involved in healthier habits, and it even defines who our friends are. The same goes for some people towards their profession. Some people get so involved in what they have been doing for such a long time that they forget to look up and see what is happening in the world around them. Their profession defines them: she/he is a teacher! She/he is a control freak.
Change is hard! We know that as a fact! To change our eating habits or even think about changing our daily routine in order to try to fit in a gym classes is disastrous!
Change is directly related to self-motivation. When we talk about changing the way we teach which also involves trying to change 30 or 40 students’ way of learning, the healthiest question would be: why change? I have heard many teachers say: "It is working so well", "Students are quiet and listening to me", "Why should I change?" That is why our schools are still in the 70´s. That is why students are still not able to learn a foreign language in school. Lack of self-motivation. Not only students’ self-motivation but teachers’ self-motivation as well.
The question we should be asking ourselves is: are our students learning the way we are teaching?
Information without action is worthless. Teachers may be studying about soft skills and reading about the importance of enhancing our students’ critical thinking, and increasing their oral practices through projects and group work. However, they are still too scared to actually cross the line, put students in small groups, and allow a little chaos in the classroom. Teachers are not self-motivated enough in order to promote change. We are too focused on the word teaching and have forgotten to understand the concept of learning.
Teaching has now reached a complex step because, all of a sudden, students matter. Classroom planning is about student´s interest, promoting students’ choice, questioning their readiness to learn. Teaching is not only about content but, in fact, how you choose to display the content and how students will make sense of the content (process). Teaching is about students’ engagement and their understanding of the process. Teaching is questioning! But the level of the cognitive demand is important. What are we questioning? It has been said that 60% of the questions asked in the classroom are recall questions, 20% are procedural questions, which leaves only 20% for the most important questions: the ones that make students engage, reflect and interact.
Teachers need patience, persistence, and a strong commitment to change our school system. Project-based learning, group work, active learning, cross-curricular projects are classroom activities that are here to stay. It is up to us teachers to embrace this change so we can develop our students into the citizens we want and need them to be.