2. How can reflecting on “today’s” student context help teachers support learner needs?
Instructional approaches must connect learning activities to what is known to be contextually relevant to the learner. Caine & Caine (2006) urge educators to consider “The best way to combine academic learning and natural learning is to create environments in which each student can pursue relevant questions while keeping curriculum goals in sight.” The relationship between the teacher and a student is the foundation of the student-centered classroom. In essence, relevance sets the stage for learning.
Levine (2006) clearly articulates:
We need to end the old argument about whether teaching is a profession like law and medicine, requiring substantial education before one enters practice, or a craft like journalism to be learned on the job. Teaching is a profession. It requires deep content knowledge, a familiarity with ways to teach that knowledge effectively, and an understanding of how young people learn and grow.
According to the U.S. Department of Education website, the average age of today’s teachers is 42.5 (2004). The context of when and how today’s teachers were educated is significantly different from their students. As teachers assess readiness to learn, it is critical to understand their students’ mindsets and dispositions both inside the classroom and beyond in “real” life. A large number of students today lack the motivation to engage in their learning process and do not aspire to pursue higher education.
Bottoms (2006) challenges educators to reflect on student motivation:
Rigor can only take students so far. For many students, if they cannot see a reason for learning academic content, they either dropout mentally or leave school[ing] altogether. When students encounter classes that are meaningful and relate directly to their future… achievement rises.
Today we live in a globally diverse culture and economy where differentiated instruction is a must, not a option. If teachers act as facilitators of knowledge and application, rather than providers of information through direct instruction, students are more likely to become motivated and therefore take responsibility for problem solving whatever obstacles may exist in achieving desired learning outcomes.
The National Education Goals Panel (1993) paints the following picture:
For the most part, the American education system has succeeded in preparing generations of students for a place in American society. Where it did not the economy had a place for people who were willing to work hard even without the skills of formal schooling. The demands of today’s society are different. We need graduates that can compete in the global economy. We need adults who can use the knowledge and skills they acquire in school to deal with the complex issues of their own communities and of the world.
To elaborate on the critical lense of context, the following is a brief inventory of current events that occurred in 1961 – when the majority of today’s teachers were born, and then again in 1979 when they graduated from high school. In contrast, a similar inventory is included of today’s students who were born in 1991, and will be graduating in 2009. Included are facts such as the cost of a new home, yearly income, value of a new car, price of gas, technological innovations, entertainment, and world events.