Posted in Why Unlearn?

What exactly is Unlearning?

unlearn a toffer

In my first few posts I have tried to explain what I feel is wrong with our current education system, and hopefully I have got some of your attention.  I truly believe that society, teachers, parents and students need to unlearn the current system, but what exactly is unlearning? Before we can define unlearning, we will need to define what it is that we need to unlearn, school, the role of teacher and student.  

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In a traditional sense it means that they are the keeper of knowledge, they are the ones that tell students what they need to know and how to learn it.  This was a great model for the industrial age and maybe for a couple of centuries to follow. But it is outdated, and does not prepare students for the world that they will live in.   In Peter Gamwell’s book Wonderwall, he suggests that we live in an age of complexity, that we no longer need to spit out carbon copies of students who know the same stuff. Don Wettrick points out that in a few years 40% of jobs will be made up by the “Gig” economy, and that students will need to be able to solve problems by being innovative and creative.

“A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.”  (techtarget.com)

What does it mean to be a student?

For the past 200 years students have been consumers of knowledge.  They learn whatever they are being taught and then regurgitate it to prove that they know it. Usually they have very little control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Some responses to the need for change.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of initiatives to change student engagement throughout my teaching career.  Even though there are things that still resemble the industrial revolution (bells and rows) teachers are doing amazing things to deliver content in a more engaging way. We’ve learned about different types of learners and implemented better ways for these students to learn (kinesthetic, audio, visual etc), we’ve used differentiated instruction, classrooms have been equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards, ipads, chromebooks and more recently we have been implementing more inquiry into our classes.  This is all a great start, and some of these methods should remain, but it is not enough, we need to redefine the traditional student / teacher roles as well as the definition of the traditional classroom. The classroom walls need to come down. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh so that our schools resemble the world in which our students will be living.  Students need to become creators rather than consumers and teachers need to become mentors / facilitators.

So what exactly is unlearning?

I enjoy change, actually I thrive on it.  I have never taught a class the same way more than once.  I am constantly looking for some way to change things up and do a better job.  I reflect on what went right and what didn’t and work from there. I’d say most teachers do this, but they continue to change their lessons / assignments in a more traditional way. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by many progressive educators who are saying enough is enough, things have got change. So I have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and am challenging the traditional definitions of education, classroom, teacher and student.   

The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ (Flanagan) This concept is hard to achieve in our current system as most teachers feel overwhelmed with limitations  and barriers that include lack of time to unlearn, covering curriculum, class sizes,  lack of technology, behaviour problems and the need to provide marks, to name a few. However some leaders are recognizing that it needs to happen. Recently I have been reading about Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country Day School and Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and how they are taking a whole school approach and putting their teachers through the unlearning process.  Biller points out that, ‘”We’ve all gone to workshops and seminars and learned from a class,” she said. “We go there, gain skills, change mindsets, we get very excited, and then we head back to work and things get in the way. And then we wonder why change isn’t taking place.” She said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past.” (Flanagan)  These two organizations are going to work together to challenge what has always been by using a process where they will change mindsets, habits and build trust.

While I know it is not realistic for every school to stop everything and put their staff and students through the unlearning process, I would like to show you that it can be done.

In my next few posts, I plan to outline my unlearning journey from traditional teacher to an unlearned teacher.  I hope you will continue to read, ask questions and maybe try to do a little unlearning of your own.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

For more reading on Beaver Country Day School and Harvard’s LILA see below.

Almeida, Debora. “Should Students Be Learning or Unlearning? – The Boston Globe.”BostonGlobe.com, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/10/21/should-students-learning-unlearning/uvpDTMsdvuYtkXjNtUrRFN/story.html.

Flanagan, Linda. “Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation | MindShift | KQED News.” KQED, 23 June 2017, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48480/why-unlearning-old-habits-is-an-essential-step-for-innovation.
“Learning Innovations Laboratory.” Learning Innovations Laboratory | Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/learning-innovations-laboratory.

“What Is Gig Economy? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com, May 2016, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy.

 

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