Where is the Overlap Between Teaching and Learning?

As an “aging” educator and a self-professed lifelong learner, I have spent a lot of my time thinking about both teaching and learning within the confinements of the educational classroom. Are the concepts of teaching and learning synonymous with each other? Or are they exclusive from one another? I have recently been part of several different conversations where “yes” was the correct answer to each of these questions. While the answer is certainly debatable, especially within context, the truth probably lies somewhere on a continuum between these two opposites. I cannot help but think of a quote by Seymour Papert: “I think it’s an exaggeration, but there’s a lot of truth in saying that when you go to school, the trauma is that you must stop learning and you must now accept being taught.”

Maybe the question is not whether teaching and learning are the same or different, but how they are being represented in the classroom. Let me ask the question another way. Does a teacher in a classroom feel they are learning alongside their students? Do the students feel that they are each responsible for teaching their classmates in conjunction with learning with their teacher throughout the day? Those are much different questions, aren’t they? Each question puts both the teacher and student in a much different frame of reference from the original two. Our standardized model of education has been built around an industrial “factory” model, where students historically sat in rows and were taught specific tasks, one task at a time, and then were asked to regurgitate the information back. All this was done to prepare them for a life of “acceptance and drudgery” of the factory environment. But times have changed, technology has changed, and our students have certainly changed as well. Most administrators, teachers, and students would agree that this century-old “sage on the stage filling empty vessels” model needs to evolve, but transformation does not happen overnight. Teachers tend to teach as they are taught, and the system seems to be caught in a cycle that perpetuates on itself.

So, while large, wholesale changes within education are in order, what if we all begin to take small steps to help move the dial away from our traditional approach to education. I feel that we need to think about teaching and learning not as separate entities but as one in the same.

How different is it from a student’s perspective if the teacher is no longer responsible for “knowing it all,” but is on a learning walk alongside the class? Now with technology at our fingertips an answer to most questions is just a Google search away. Meanwhile, what if a student saw their position in the classroom as a shared responsibility to learn, think critically, and share their knowledge with their teacher and fellow students? That is indeed a much more exciting and dynamic classroom experience for both student and teacher alike.

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