x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

New classroom learning models

Out with the rote, in with the new classroom learning model. That was the central theme at a gathering of about 1,000 school leaders, teachers and principals on Sunday.

Aaron Sams, an American education expert, tells his audience in Abu Dhabi that change to a more pupil-centred system in schools will not happen overnight but can be achieved. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Aaron Sams, an American education expert, tells his audience in Abu Dhabi that change to a more pupil-centred system in schools will not happen overnight but can be achieved. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Out with the rote, in with the new classroom learning model. That was the central theme at a gathering of about 1,000 school leaders, teachers and principals on Sunday.

They were part of a day-long Abu Dhabi Education Council conference focused on inspiring leaders to transform the way children learn in the classroom from teacher-centric to pupil-focused.

“I really see this concept of flipped learning as a transitional piece,” Aaron Sams, co-author of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, told the audience.

“This is a way for teachers who are very traditional and who hold on to the control of their classroom and are the centre of attention in their classroom, this is a way for them to take small steps to move toward an interest-driven, a curiosity-driven, and a very student-centred classroom. It can’t happen overnight, that’s a very difficult transition to ask a traditional teacher to make.”

Mr Sams, an American chemistry teacher, devised a new teaching model along with his colleague Jonathan Bergmann, which they say makes efficient use of classroom time, empowers pupils to take ownership of their own learning and helps children of different learning levels.

Under this “flipped classroom” model, the teacher records all his lessons and posts the videos or audio recordings online. Pupils view the videos as homework, leaving classroom time open for the teacher to help them with concepts or questions they don’t understand.

“I think the role of the teacher is actually more important in this model than it is in the traditional model,” said Mr Sams.

“First of all, the role is redefined. It’s not a content expert who has to deliver information, it’s someone who is a content expert who now has to take all these diverse learning needs – that have always been there but we have really failed to recognise – but meet the individual needs of the individual learners by hopefully empowering them to take the responsibility for the learning and I’m going to help facilitate that and answer individual questions and get students to get to where they need to be individually.

“Ultimately I would hope that moves the teacher to embrace an asynchronous learning environment where students are moving through content at their own pace. That way, students who excel can get done early and work on the other projects and students who struggle will get the individualised attention that they need from the teacher.”

The group also heard from American professor Hal Gregerson, co-author of The Innovators’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Mr Gregerson’s research of the behaviour of the world’s top business leaders, such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among many others, showed that nearly half of the innovators had school experiences that were non-traditional.

“It was project-centred schoolwork where these innovation skills were vibrant and alive,” Mr Gregerson said. “It was project-focused work, they used these skills as they were growing up in order to solve problems in school and beyond.”

Under this model, the ideal learning environment would promote innovation skills among the students not by preaching lessons for them to memorise, but by engaging them in hands-on learning, encouraging curiosity, critical thinking, problem-solving, networking and observational skills.

“That would mean that I walk into a classroom and I’d see children or young people asking lots of questions,” said Mr Gregerson. Under the teacher-centric model, a pupil asks one question a month in an hour long class while the average teacher asks between 50 and 100 questions an hour, he said.

“I’d see them being like anthropologists in the work they’re doing and observing their world. I would see them talking to different age groups, different grade levels, different people from different backgrounds. I would see them just experimenting and trying things. In a school where they’re building education capacity, you will see these behaviours in action within the classroom.”

rpennington@thenational.ae