Learning to Learn, Learning to Teach

By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

An article in the New York Times (Sharon Otterman’s “60 First Graders, 4 Teachers, One Loud New Way to Learn,” 10 Jan. 2011), explains how a school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has changed how learning takes place.

I specialize in science education, not in general learning theory. Yet, I’ve been advocating something like this for years. It’s nice to see someone actually doing it instead of just giving it lip service.

The concept is simple but not so easy to do well. It has two parts. I’ve often wondered why today’s teachers aren’t more like apprentices who work under the tutelege of a master in an actual work setting. That’s why putting three novice teachers in a classroom with a master teacher sounds like such a great idea to me. The master teacher splits time between teaching students and teaching teachers. I believe it’s much better than the usual “sink or swim” approach to learning to teach. I’d expect that you’ll have better teacher retention under this system too.

The second part involves students learning how to learn. They’re constantly given opportunities for independence instead of being lectured and controlled. I’ve always felt that learning to learn was an important component of education. As I’ve studied and conversed with some really smart educators, I’ve come to the conclusion that learning to learn must become the primary goal of education. One critical component of learning to learn is learning to think for yourself using all of your mind, emotional and rational, respectful and skeptical of authority.

The fact that this education experiment is taking place in a difficult neighborhood makes its apparent success even more exciting. But it’s too early to make any serious conclusions. I’m just happy that someone is really trying out these two important ideas and hopeful that they’ll point the way to new ways of organizing learning.

As the grade level advances, technology tools can become an important aspect of learning. I can imagine a virtual class in, say, tenth grade with both teachers and students geographically separated but still using the same basic model.

2 Responses

  1. I know I have been long in teaching when ways I loved to teach resurface as a new thing. I taught at a school, Drew Model as a team leader where we had such a construct for several years in bliss. It was a great school in Arlington , Virginia. The difference was that the team leaders got to select the teachers that they worked with and had some administrative permissions and responsibilities. Now I am working with Emaginos.com and we have a school that is similar, but of course with technology , and is project based with longer school days and a longer school year. We hope to make it a transformative model that will promote change.
    We have more than the NY model. We hve interns and coomunity college buy in. It is the program on steroids based on the organization of the school and we have been in place for nine years.

  2. Projects are great. I would, nevertheless, warn against going overboard with them. They’re only part of the learning and part of the solution to our current problems.

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