What the iphone Can Teach Us About Teaching

iPhoneHere is Robyn’s Latest Newsletter Article.  You can subscribe to our Free Monthly E-Newsletter by clicking here.

After a year of resisting, I finally drank the apple-flavored kool-aid and bought an iphone. I had read about its brilliant design but was entirely unprepared for its simplicity. Now I suppose the folks at Apple could have sent me a questionnaire in order to discern my likes and dislikes and used that information to figure out what I wanted and needed in a phone. And I guess they could have sent someone out to interview me to determine my telephone and texting habits and the gone back to the factory and built a phone to my exact specifications. But Apple didn’t focus on trying to build a phone designed just for me. In fact, it did just the opposite. Rather than offering an array of colors, the phone comes in only 2 – white and black. Instead of offering an array of built-in applications, it offers just a few basic programs loaded into the phone. Instead of trying to offer an array of phones to meet my needs, Apple offers just one.

But this phone does meet my needs exactly. I can buy a cover for the phone in any color and design I can imagine. I can download any additional software I need from entire app store filled with applications not built by Apple but by its customers. Although I bought the same phone that anyone else can purchase, I have the opportunity to make it uniquely my own. I was able to customize it to fit my needs.

Later that week, I was following the Twitter edchat on my iphone about Differentiated Instruction while I was waiting for a plane I began to think that maybe Apple could teach us a thing or two about teaching. For years we have tried to differentiate our instruction, often creating several different lesson plans to meet the needs of more of our students. Many times we miss several students’ needs and wear ourselves out in the process. I wondered what if instead of differentiating our lessons for students, we created lessons that were customizable? What if we taught like an iphone?

Stay with me now. I promise you that I haven’t turned into Steve Jobs’ evangelist. The brilliance of the iphone’s design is that it can be customized to meet the individual needs of each us. Apple doesn’t bother creating apps it thinks we might use, instead, it offers us the users an opportunity to build our own. Apple doesn’t try to anticipate my needs. Instead, it built a phone that is flexible enough that I can make it fit my needs.

In the days of DVR’s that allow you to watch TV when and how you want, and Pandora radio that lets you create your own radio station customized to your tastes and preferences, it is hard for many students to sit and get lessons that are pitched to the nebulous middle. And, even when we attempt to get to know our students’ individual likes and dislikes, learning strengths and weaknesses, backgrounds and dispositions and create lessons that address all of these, trying to do so for every child every day is next to impossible and we often settled for superficial connections or just give up entirely.

Maybe instead of differentiation, we should focus on building lessons that are flexible enough that each student can find a way to access the curriculum. Maybe instead of trying to guess what our students may need, we should teach students how to show us what they need in ways that can be quickly addressed by the supports available in the classroom. Maybe instead of trying to adapt our lessons to meet each student’s need, we should create lessons that students can customize themselves.

Differentiation focuses too much on individualization rather than customization. We are trying to meet the individual needs of students rather than showing them how to meet their own needs. We are building individual lessons for each student instead of building lessons that are flexible enough so that all students can access them.

Differentiation presumes that we know what is best for students and puts the onus of meeting their needs on us. But what if we enlisted our students to partner with us to figure out what they needed instead? If we did, we would create a shared learning space where we can work with our students to help them get what they need from our classes. We would also show student how to leverage the currencies they bring with them to the classroom to access the curriculum in the way that works best for them.

Imagine what would happen in this kind of classroom! Students would be more engaged because they would be actively involved in creating and monitoring their own learning. Students would also feel more comfortable because they are learning how to leverage their backgrounds and currencies in order to access the curriculum. Learning would take place at a much deeper level because students are learning how to learn and how to take the curriculum and adapt it to their own contexts. Rigor and relevance would naturally increase, and because students and teachers are co-creating the learning experience, relationships would thrive.

I know, I know. Creating this kind of classroom is really hard at first. It requires really understanding your curriculum, flexibility, and the time to create and implement. And, thinking about teaching this way requires a real shift in our thinking. The TIP sheet this month has some ideas for getting started and in the next few months on our blog, in this newsletter, and on our site, we will be posting new resources and offering new workshops that provide step-by-step guidance for moving towards customization instead of individualization. Stay Tuned.

Robyn R. Jackson

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Great post! I love the idea of making the curriculum customized instead of individualized.

  2. Robyn, I love this article and just posted an excerpt/link on my site – NowPossible.com – which covers personalization in education, healthcare and beyond.

  3. Hi, Your blog looks great, I can tell how much time you have put into it. I am going to save it and will make sure to check often.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] (excerpts) What if we taught like an iphone? Apple doesn’t try to anticipate my needs. Instead, it built a phone that is flexible enough that I can make it fit my needs. In the days of DVR’s that allow you to watch TV when and how you want, and Pandora radio that lets you create your own radio station customized to your tastes and preferences, it is hard for many students to sit and get lessons that are pitched to the nebulous middle… Maybe instead of differentiation, we should focus on building lessons that are flexible enough that each student can find a way to access the curriculum. Maybe instead of trying to adapt our lessons to meet each student’s need, we should create lessons that students can customize themselves. (Read entire article…) [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marcia Conner, Mary Francone. Mary Francone said: RT @marciamarcia: First para speaks to all design, not just instruction in iPhone http://sn.im/can-teach from @Robyn_Mindsteps [...]

  3. [...] Jackson over at Mind Steps takes an interesting angle on the use of iPods and iPhones in the classroom. One that I’ve [...]

  4. [...] of agency and shared control.  We have to structure the learning environment so that they can customize it to meet their own [...]

  5. [...] about technology as teacher; this is a book about technology as enabler. Just like our popular post What the iPhone can teach you about teaching, this book explains how we can do for learners what Apple does for music lovers, what Amazon does [...]

Speak Your Mind

*