Challenges Facing the 21st Century Classroom
It's difficult to complain, when historically, teachers had slate and chalk to rely on, while students ranging in age from 5 to 14 required instruction in the same space at the same time. Today, more children are granted access to public education, and more resources are afforded to the typical teacher, than in the early American education system. As a teacher, I don't even need to tend to the schoolhouse's fire in the winter, or assign students to bring kindling anymore (American Public Education: An Origin Story). The luxuries are clear. With this progress, however, comes higher expectations, more oversight, and a whole lot of problems. Of the many challenges facing 21st Century classrooms and teachers, some of most prominent include ever-changing technology, increasingly diverse learning styles of students, and varied class curricula.
Modern teachers are confronted with one technological trend after another. Between interactive whiteboards, digital applications for personal devices, multimedia web services, and cloud computing, it can be difficult to navigate. Teachers must be quick to adopt a new, digital resources that administration is pushing, and must be open to learning new technologies for the sake of student engagement. On top of needing experience and skill in the use of new technologies, "...it helps to understand the new vernacular of students who grew up digital" (Brown, 20). So, not only must teachers learn these new technologies, we must also be hip in the way we discuss, apply, and demonstrate them!
Student learning styles are just another challenge facing the 21st century classroom. As an increasingly heterogeneous population, students require diverse modes of teaching, or "multiple instructional opportunities" (Moallem). This means, that the way in which a teacher might feel most comfortable teaching, might do very little to help her students. "The concept of individual differences presents a profound challenge for instructional designers and educators, as research seems to suggest that the quality of learning material is enhanced if the material is designed to take into account learners’ individual learning styles" (Lombardi, 217-218). The classroom therefore must be set-up in a way that benefits all different types of learners, and instruction must be varied to address the needs of all students, from all backgrounds. Some of the questions below help teachers to consider learning styles, and therefore teaching styles, which should be addressed in a 21st century classroom:
The final challenge that faces many teachers, and classrooms, is the need to address multiple curricula in the same physical space. This is a topic that I have been avoiding, as the challenge for me is quite real. To better understand, first, see the many classes that I teach:
1. 7th Grade Art Essentials
2. 8th Grade Modern Art & Design
3. 8th Grade PEN (gifted)
4. 9th Grade Ceramics
5. 9th Grade 3D Design
6. Autistic Support Art Class
Unfortunately, I am not entirely unique in this situation. Many teachers must must allow their classroom to rotate between different courses and different curriculum throughout the day. As a result, the 21st Century classroom, and teacher, must be flexible to allow for all types of learning activities. What works for one class curriculum and learning format, may be detrimental to another. Most students are not fortunate enough to flow between custom work areas, fit for each curriculum like the "new learning environments" at High Tech High (Pearlman). Our students must make do with relatively fixed, clunky furniture, and limited work spaces. If teachers only had to focus on one curriculum, and one class, the space could be optimized for that group. The challenge remains, we must create spaces fit for varied class curricula throughout the school day.
Overall, while most of our learning environments have all of the modern, physical amenities, like electricity and sound flooring, 21st Century classrooms still face many challenges. Teachers need to work with, and embrace the growth that comes from facing these challenges. Afterall, this is why we get paid the big bucks!
Accommodating Individual Differences in the Design of Online Learning Environments: A Comparative Study, Mahnaz Moallem
American Public Education: An Origin Story, http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/american-public-education-an-origin-story/
Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, Marilyn Lombardi
Designing New Learning Environements to Support 21st Century Skills, Bob Pearlman
One-Room Schoolhouse photo, http://www.argenweb.net/white/wchs/ArmstrongSpringsBaseballTeam_Files/ArmstrongSpringsSchoolhouse_files/ArmstrongSpringsSchoolhouse.htm