Grade 1 teacher Tammy Doyle is positively euphoric about the return of school. After 25 years in the elementary classroom, the Ottawa Catholic School Board teacher featured in a recent Canadian Press story no longer considers herself a “teacher” of children. She now calls herself a “learning partner.”
Play learning is making a comeback in the Digital Age. “We want to stop having education delivered and make (the children) creators of their education,” Doyle says of the efforts to “build a more collaborative classroom” with the help of technology. “I think it’s incredible if we can empower our kids for tomorrow– not looking back to yesterday or even today…That’s the definition of empowerment and innovation and it begins with that simple shifting mindset. ”
What has come over Tammy and some of her elementary school confreres? It’s called “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” or NPDL for short, the latest innovation concocted by Dr. Michael Fullan, Canada’s globally-renowned school change theorist. The Three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are passe to Fullan and his new disciples because Deep Learning seeks to develop what are termed Fullan’s Six Cs: character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
The Ottawa Catholic Board is one of 15 school districts in Ontario and Manitoba working to implement and “disseminate” these ideas in practice. It’s all being done in advance of developing instruments to assess and support the new outcomes. Creating “digital ecosystems” in the classroom is, all of a sudden, more important than teaching effectiveness, mastering the fundamentals, and improving student math outcomes.
The latest iteration of 21st Century Digital Learning has just sprung out of a project, spearheaded by Sir Michael Barber and Pearson Education, involving some 100 school districts in 10 countries as part of a global push to reshape education for the Digital Age. While Barber has conceded that, so far, educational technology’s impact on “learner outcomes” has been “disappointing,” the technological revolution, in his words, “does not allow us to abandon our ambition to use technology in classrooms.” That’s why he commissioned Fullan, his Chief Research Officer Maria Langworthy and other “leading education thinkers” to reinvent teaching pedagogy to deploy technology in ways that will “transform learner outcomes.”
In his Foreward to to the January 2014 White Paper, A Rich Seam, Sir Michael Barber lauds Fullan and Langworthy for conceiving of the “new pedagogy” based upon “a learning partnership” between and among students and teachers. In one memorable passage, he also concedes that “much of what Fullan and Langworthy describe is not new at all,” but building upon the so-called “Progressive” tradition going back through to Piaget, Vygotsky and other key theorists.”
If so, why do it all again? For two reasons: First, the “new pedagogy” was emerging — he claimed– “not in laboratories or universities, but at the frontline, in classrooms” across the globe in response to “the crisis of boredom and frustration among students and career disillusionment among teachers.” And secondly, educators had little choice, fully immersed in digital ubiquity and struggling to stay Alive in the Swamp, but to integrate technology into their classroom practice.
All of this demonstrates that what British teacher Tom Bennett termed the “Cult of Shift Happens” has now surfaced in Canada (Ontario), the United States (California), the United Kingdom, and four other countries. in a new guise. The familiar Shift Happens mindset, sparked by Barber in his 2000 OECD Rotterdam Address, and immortalized in Colorado teacher Karl Fisch’s viral futuristic Did You Know? YouTube video, is back in a peculiar fusion of old, unproven, pseudo-scientific innovations, borrowing heavily from Project-Based Learning, Cooperative Learning, and Change Leadership, now from the Middle (LftM) rather than the Top or Bottom of school systems.
Some current advocates of NPDL like Richard Messina, Principal of the OISE’s Institute of Child Study Laboratory School, favour Inquiry-Based Learning, a pedagogical model with proven benefits for academically-able students. Such innovative approaches work better in “hot house” elementary education environments than in what Barber describes as the “ordinary schools.” In Messina’s Toronto private school, it’s easy to imagine Grade 4 students creating their own science experiments, generating their own curriculum, and utilizing technology programs such as Knowledge Forum to assist with research. So far, it hasn’t worked notably well in mainstream classrooms.
“New Pedagogy” zealots such as Tammy Doyle and her Director of Education Denise Andre sound born again in espousing the latest educational fad springing from the still fertile mind of Michael Fullan and his coterie. While Doyle sees “a bit of chaos” as up to 80 six-year-olds wander in and out of their four Grade 1 classrooms, she’s all revved-up about their excitement. “It’s unlike education that we have ever had and experienced,” she says, because “the kids are going home excited and talking about it.” Then comes the ever-popular 21st Century Learning mantra: “We’re preparing kids for jobs we don’t know are going to exist in the future.”
What’s so new about integrating technology into the learning process? How many of the “new pedagogies” accept the critical need for explicit instruction, particularly in certain cumulative subjects? Is the Deeper Learning movement really a venture aimed at undercutting and eventually eliminating provincial core subject assessments? How wise is it to implement Michael Fullan’s Six Cs when we have no reliable, research-based way of assessing such competencies?