In looking back at my parents’ education in the 1950s and 60s, and my own education in the 1990s and 2000s, I worry sometimes that despite the huge advances that we’ve seen in technology, not much has changed when it comes to how we view learning and how we design learning environments. The transmission model of education is still the name of the game, although in some circles there are signs of its erosion.

I would like to take you on a journey in this post, starting from the 1950s banking model (Freire, 1968) of instructional design, before comparing it to my own schooling experiences as a digital native at the turn of the century. Then, finally, I would like to share my vision for C21 learning, and propose some ways that we can move forward so that we are meeting the needs of today.


When my parents went to school….

T (9)
Each of these three education models – the 1950s, 1990s and today – were made on Canva. The idea of “the arrow” was first shared with me by @NigelJWinnard from Intentional Learning.

In each of these infographics, students are shown as (S) and teachers as (T). The important focus in each of these images is the direction of the arrow. By looking at where the arrow originates and where it is pointed, we can ask ourselves, Who is doing the thinking? Who is actively using language? Who is leading? What is the relationship between the student and the teacher? And since learning is the ultimate goal, Is learning happening? and Is this how students best learn?

In an industrial-age classroom, with a teacher-centered/teacher directed, one-size-fits-all approach, the arrow always points from the teacher to the student. The directionality of the traditional teaching arrow doesn’t differentiate to allow for students to learn from any source but the teacher and the resources prescribed by the teacher. The roles are clearly defined: It is the teacher’s job to create memorable lessons, and the student’s job to remember them whether or not they are memorable.

The only positive spin I can put on the 20th century compliance model is that learning can potentially happen despite the teacher’s illusion of control. My mom, for example, was a Deaf student learning in a 1960’s hearing world. She recalls how she would resort to sneaking notes to ask for help from her peers before being caught and punished by her teacher. According to her, and countless other students with similar experiences, it was the help of peers or an adult tutor that saved them from what could potentially have been a lost education. Of course, reconceptualizing the entire learning model to one that allows for personalization and multi-directional dialogue would have done the trick as well.

Now, if you think that things got better for us millennials circa Y2K,  I am sad to report that by the time school started for me in 1992, the directionality of the arrow had barely changed at all.


When I went to school….

T (10)

Let me paint a picture of what it was like when Stephanie and I attended school. In almost all of my classes growing up, teachers put us in groups of 4-6 desks like those depicted above. There were 6-8 iMacs collecting dust around the perimeter of the classroom, and class sets of simple word processing laptops on wheels. We had book bags and class libraries, and we took brain breaks and played learning games, too. There was an increased understanding on the value of pastoral care and differentiation, although they didn’t call it that. Despite an overall appearance of progress, the teacher still held the cards. The direction of the arrow didn’t change; It still went from teacher to student to nothing.

I don’t want to devalue the work that was being done by a handful of forward-thinking teachers in my life. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have entered the profession. But for the majority of my experience, the focus was on making traditional teaching work for the 21st century, not on shifting the paradigm. Yes, my generation’s instructional methods included “turn and talk”, for example, where we were asked to turn to a partner and mindlessly babble fake discussion, with one eye on the teacher to make sure she wasn’t coming around. Then, when “talk” time was up, we would just share what we were already going to say before the exercise began. This is how we did “discussions”; We were allowed to talk to a partner for 15 seconds, and then those selected by the teacher were allowed to share before the teacher took back the reigns once more.

Again, the arrows of my education were not much different than the linear, teacher-controlled, unidirectional arrow that formed the education of my parents’ generation, and the generations of organized schooling that existed for 100 years before. In order to truly reject the pedagogy of the 20th century, which may have been adequate for the time, we literally have to make a 180° turn and run the other way.


My dream for school….

T (8).png


It’s time to change the direction of the arrow by for once and for all turning it around and allowing it to originate from the student. Imagine a classroom where students are the ones driving the learning and are empowered to pursue things that matter to them. In the infographic above we see multiple modalities being employed by these students as students are accessing human and digital resources to drive their own learning. In a 21st century learning model, learning extends beyond the classroom walls, and students are exchanging, discussing, questioning, reflecting and making connections anywhere, anytime. Most importantly, students are inspired and empowered to act, rather than sit back and have the knowledge brought to them.

This learning is so nonlinear, publicly shared, and student-driven that there is no silver bullet for how to achieve this in your classroom overnight. I’m still learning and reflecting on how best we might do this, and I don’t pretend to have arrived the proverbial mountaintop of understanding. Regardless, here are some things I’ve tried in my class to change the direction of the arrow, with a related blog post explaining below:


With the world of knowledge now available at our students’ fingertips, and in a time when we’re certain that the workforce of the future is going to look completely different from what it does now, it’s time to reject the status quo of how we design learning opportunities for our students. Seeing as we are already well into the 21st Century, my hope is that once and for all we put an end to the 20th century mindset of the teacher as the keeper of knowledge and our students as the passive consumers of information.

– Zach Groshell @mrzachg

You’re welcome to join our facebook group, Over-posting Educators

80 thoughts on “After 100 Years of the Same Teaching Model It’s Time to Throw Out the Playbook

  1. Really enjoying reading your #FutureReady thinking and posts. I especially like the fact that with those “problems” and “difficulties” and “wrongdoings”, you are also providing readers with ideas for solutions.
    Keep up the Good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for jumping in on this convo… yes, I’ve gotten a lot of comments on Twitter and elsewhere about my “claim” that Model A and Model B were created over the last 100 years or so. . . I don’t mean to tread on anyone else’s expertise as I’m not an educational historian by any means. The post is meant to be an observation of the practice in many (most?) classrooms, not the origins of different teaching methods.

      Again, thanks for the visit!

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      1. For sure there are models of learning that are older than 100 years, but my point was that not much has changed since my parents went to school, regardless of what learning theories have been developed.

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  2. If only we can make our teaching professionals understand the difference between ‘Teaching’ and ‘Facilitating Learning ‘ and make them aware who is the hero of the class, definitely it’s not the teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post! The next step towards facilitating student learning is to lose the classroom itself. If you haven’t already, check out Sudbury model schools, such as The Circle School. circleschool.org. I have been where you are, then made the leap. Keep probing, keep thinking, keep being unsatisfied with the status quo.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At what age / stage does this model of education start? In my experience the child needs a lot of content input and direction in the earlier years, and then more self-direction later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Thanks for commenting 🙂 I’m not sure that we can arbitrarily draw a line, even using stages of development. This is a model based on language use and agency, not on any specific set of content knowledge. It is ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to understand the content well enough to be able to apply this kind of pedagogy in the most effective way.

      Come join our Facebook group!

      https://m.facebook.com/groups/348282998873554

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      1. I think generally there is no longer a need for teachers as we traditionally think of them. I think traditional teachers are only needed upon request of the “students” and even then mostly just to encourage like a grandmother and ask questions. Then the student decides themselves to go further when they are ready. This video describes what I am talking about better than I can.

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    2. In my experience Self-Directed Learn begins at birth and continues fantastically well if we don’t get in the way as adults but help foster the learning. In the early years kids are learning how to walk and talk, both amazing skills to learn at a young age.

      This article is a good overview of what Self-Directed Education at home looks like. Some call it Unschooling, which is different from homeschooling, which often looks like replicating conventional schooling at home:

      http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/pam_sorooshian.html

      Here is a great short video of what Self-Directed Education can look like in a school setting.

      Here is a great article that talks about how “content input” looks like with Self-Directed Education.

      https://www.self-directed.org/tp/scaffolding-and-thinking-outside-the-box/

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  5. In practice over reliance on progressive education increases social inequality. This is what we are currently seeing in Ontario, where I taught for 32 years. I went to school in the 1960s in England and my education was conventional with a wise dose of progressive education.I was not alone. Progressive ideas have been used for decades. Nothing new under the teaching sun.

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  6. Can’t comment on your circumstances. In Ontario have been incorporated for decades, but have now overthrown conventional teaching. Progressive methods can take the form of a 2 min. interjection, to something more complex. But I believe that they should be used very judiciously and within a conventional education. I am far more conventional than you might like, but to suggest that education in earlier decades was like your diagram is simplistic. I would suggest what is happening in U.K. is the antidote to years of progressivism that does not mean that teachers are not incorporating elements of progressivism. Although I do understand that teaching has become so bureaucratic in U.K. that they can’t even keep teachers, so you have massive issues of a different nature.

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    1. We appreciate your visit and you sharing this around. I watched your video and it was pretty fascinating. After I wrote this post I found it really interesting that so many people swore that my experiences of the traditional tell and practice model were not what they had experienced. These followers, most older than me, paint a picture of years and years of overindulgence in “progressive” learning throughout history and that we’ve learned from our past mistakes aka we need to go back to direct instruction always and forever. How strange. Why is it that they don’t see what you and I see when they think back to their own education, or when they walk around to different classrooms and schools?

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

      Zach

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  7. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you because we have to work in order to recover the student´s potential skills to learning. Before to lost them in the traditional way of teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Teaching a foreign language does not lend itself to this model easily at all stages of learning. Most often the teacher is the only one in the room that can speak/read/write in the target language. The students do indeed require modelling and direct instruction as hearing a language proceeds speaking. Reading proceeds writing, (if communication in TL is the goal).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How can 1:1 mobile technology and strong technological pedagogical content knowledge by the teacher lead to increased opportunities for active learning in foreign language classes without the constant need for model 1? In my view model 2 isn’t really even possible without a teacher who is strong with technology and a class that has optimal access to it.

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    2. It is not unheard of for adults to learn new languages without formal classroom instruction; why would we assume children are somehow different? Kids do this even more efficiently/easily. At the same time, I think it is nearly unheard of for a student to become fluent in a foreign language after four or five years of daily classroom instruction in high school. A motivated student (motivation is the most important factor) with unlimited access to foreign language media and foreign language instructional software such as Rosetta Stone, can become fluent. Of course, the most efficient way to learn a new language is immersion.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Education Rickshaw and jdstillwater, thanks for your comments. Without a doubt, technology has permitted for access to culture, language, authentic resources, in a way previously unimagined when I learned a foreign language. And yes, immersion in the target setting is the most effective way. However most students are exposed and start to learn in a traditional classroom without the 1:1 device ratio scenario. I would argue that students are quick to also learn and fossilize the errors or their peers without an accurate model, especially during the novice years of exposure. The point I really wanted to make is that not every subject area nor everyone’s access to resources lends itself to the ideal model outlined in this blog post. Thanks again for engaging article and your comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 40 years ago, I was dragged into a classroom in Egypt, my only qualification being that I was the only native speaker of English (I’m American.) for miles around. Their perception was that I was viewed as an untapped asset for the stakeholders of the school to empower the students with a language that offered advancement opportunities that Arabic-only did not offer. I was extremely reluctant because I had never studied anything about teaching (I had a BA in Communications), was not certified, had no previous classroom experience. What I did have was my experience in learning Arabic. (I traveled to Egypt in 1981 to learn Arabic and Islam.) I was enrolled in an Arabic program at a well-known 1000-year-old university (Al-Azhar University). After 4 years, I marveled at the fact that I had learned more Arabic in the girls’ dormitory and through interaction with Egyptians, than I ever had – or ever would – in the traditional classroom.

    40 years later, now back in the U.S., I am still a teacher, in spite of the fact that I really loathe having to prepare precisely typed out lesson plans, to prepare syllabuses and curriculum plans, to jump through a hundred hoops, when all I really want to do is set learning in motion and watch the results. But I can’t.

    All this pie-in-the-sky talk of revolutionizing learning is extremely exciting and frustrating for me at one and the same time. Exciting because it validates the system that I have stubbornly been trying to buck my entire professional life. Frustrating because I honestly feel that there can be no improvement towards what Sugata Mitra (the TED talk video posted in the comments) and Je’anna L Clements (author of “Educational ‘Scaffolding’ and ‘Thinking Outside the Box’”, posted in the comments) presented/talked about until we dispense with the absolutely insane amount of standardized testing almost all students (and teachers) are expected to suffer through, and that rigid, bureaucratic, straight-jacket compendium of rules that teachers are required/forced to adhere to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Correction: It should read – “Exciting because it validates what I have been stubbornly trying to buck my entire professional life: the system as it is.”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dr. UmTaha, I think there is a place for you in a Sudbury School. No more bucking a stubborn broken system. Your students will love you, and you will love working in a system that sets them free.

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  11. Well, that System sounds really great for general education. However, I teach at a vocational college in Bavaria (FE). We are part of a hybrid which is called Dual System. Our students got an apprenticeship contract and we as a school are supposed to “deliver” standard knowledge and understanding of the choosen vocational area. So, in real life, there is simply not enough time to go on educational adventures. Sad but true …

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was educated in Oxfordshire in the 1970s.
    My work was never directed I could create and investigate anything I fancied. I had no marks on my work to correct spellings or improvements, but was encouraged to draw, experiment and generally do what I wanted. Consequently I am a great ideas person, but need a completer finisher on my team. I can’t spell very well even though I read lots. This period has been referred to by politicians as the “ hippy” idealist era we can not go back to, with no tests to be able to show progress against. All this shows if you stay in education long enough everything comes back round. After much consideration I believe children need a variety as they are all different and that includes teacher directed work as well as a wide variety of other approaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for that great article. Really enjoyed it.

    So what Maria Montessori started about 100 years ago actually should be the system we are looking to get up and running right now more or less! No wonder that most of the huge Internet Enterprises get directed by former Montessori Students!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hi ! Your article came in just at the right time ! Well written and argued, your paper recalls how education has evolved and need to pursue evolving. You might want to look into Teacher’s College Program (Colombia University). I have found there inspiration and structure to bring my teaching in a closer social constructive approach. Again, many thanks and hope to ear from you !

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Imagine a school of classrooms in working class, bomb ruined East London, with some 280 students from different ethnic groups, and impoverished working class families, many who worked in the docks. Imagine a headteacher who believed in co-operation and preventing fear, fear of violence, of competition, of authority… Imagine children, teenagers decided what they want to learn in the afternoons, and in the mornings working in small groups to research and share their answers to questions they asked… Imagine the school community trying to ask questions from the starting point of ‘what is it to be human?’ and other open ended and vast questions. Then imagine a democratic structure in the school, with class meetings feeding into year meetings feeding into children and teacher management meetings… a school that was A.S.Neill’s favourite state school, he visited it as a guest of honour at the prize giving event, that celebrate the school community, instead of specially picked children, seen as winners… Imagine this state school in London 1945-55. Imagine what the government school inspectors would have said… ‘this is the modern secondary school of the future’ (HMI Report 1948). And this school was a product of Montessori, the suffragists, thousands of teachers… who in England developed schools that ‘liberated the child’. They called themselves ‘New Ideals in Education’ and they transformed ‘industrial’ schools, that they saw as destructive of the child, into innovative, creative, play based, co-operative learning, through nature, through doing, through research and group and individual work and peer teaching… Your arguments were presented and informed practice from the beginning of the 20th century… Let’s not write this history out of existence. Let’s not use our voices of authority to destroy all the arrows of the past that point to ‘liberating the child’ in our schools. http://www.newidealsineducation.co.uk/

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I am so glad you are promoting such a radical and much needed change. I agree that teachers would do well to find their own ways to address this although I am more inclined to think teachers would do better to consult with their students as they formulate a solution together – as you described, students know so much more than they show to teachers and they are skilled at feeding back to the teacher what the teacher wants to hear/see. My own attempts at such a solution are documented in my book ‘Clean Language in the Classroom’. I think you may find It an interesting account of moving towards the kind of classroom environment/learning arrangement you seem to be describing. I would be interested in your comments/feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanx for the emphasis on collaborative, innovative, existentially and experimentally oriented learning that deliberately and creatively ‘confuses’ who learns and who instructs. As I think you probably already know, there have been a few ‘studies’ or social histories on radical, leading edge schools that have anchored their pedagogies on such an approach. Looking back on ~ 40 years of university work at a number of schools, I can say that Erik Erikson’s approach to his own education still makes sense to me. Dubbed the second greatest psychoanalyst after Freud, Erikson never spent time in a ‘school.’ Rather, he wandered about (eg. lived amongst indigenous people like the Blackfeet Nation, etc.) and hung out with the likes of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and other intellectual ‘giants’ who would grant him more than a fleeting moment. Dr. Erikson created his very mentorial path. He eventually spent time teaching here and there at high level, ‘name’ universities. (His numerous doctoral degrees were all honorary ones.) Within the framework of major institutions of ‘higher learning,’ I myself enrolled and sat in on, and engaged in dialogue with, scholars of note who engaged my attention. In my time as a professor (Asian American Studies, Clinical & Social Psychology, Sociology, English, etc.), I urged students to do likewise: “Try this: Pick one or more of the faculty here who feel like they’ve maybe got something of value for you. Then just follow them around, whether in classrooms or elsewhere. Take their courses (whether or not you intend to finish them), and engage them in coffee talk in the wee or odd hours.”

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  18. This was a great read. It comes after just finishing reading a book called “SCRUM – the art of doing twice the work in half the time”. It’s a project management approach that breaks the traditional waterfall mode. At the end (pg 204-211), it gives a case study of a teacher who’d been teaching for 20 years, heard about the method from his brother-in-law and implemented it in his classroom and he said he’s never seen such a positive impact on results and outcomes.

    The method does exact what you’re saying, it turns teaching completely on its head and is totally student led. Basically, he has a scrum board with all the learning objectives they need for that term. Students self organise themselves in to teams based on skill sets, to ensure there’s a good balance of skills. On these groups they pick which outcomes they’ll be learning that day and then work together to learn about it teaching it each other. When they think they’ve achieved the outcome, they move it from the ‘doing’ list to the ‘done’ list. The teacher then tests their knowledge to ensure they have in fact learnt what they need to. Sounds like a very empowering way to learn.

    I’d advise reading the book, think you may find it interesting with the approach to learning you’re recommending.

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  19. Yes Zach – agree, but teachers must still be the keepers of knowledge: they must know the curriculum cause they need to guide kids towards what they may need to learn next; they must know what good pedagogy is and be supported to achieve it in order to be able to set up classrooms for student led learning they way you suggest, but even more importantly, nothing will change unless they know their students – deeply. Know who they are, how they learn, their culture, their traditions, their circumstances, their thinking style. To do the latter, teachers need to tap into parent’s knowledge of their child as a child who never stops learning in the real world beyond the desks however they are set out.

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  20. Goal – students can raise awareness through creative expression about a wicked problem that matters to them. I absolutely loved the approach – backward planning with the goal first and learning activities centred around how to get to the goal.
    I loved the article and yes, we should have paid attention to how students apply their cognitive skills in the design of not just classroom layout but the whole approach. Giving the control of the classroom back to the students is brave and challenging, especially with younger students.
    However, I see several problematic aspects in this article. Call me old-fashioned, but ban of raising hands doesn’t sit well with me – we are evolutionary competitive and suppressing (or directing to posting online) is nothing less than political correctness that discourages or even angers high performing students. Teacher’s responsibility for control of shared space and encouragement of quieter students to speak does not diminish with the introduction of technology.
    I also would like to bring here the key principle of making progress in learning in any medium – zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) – each student needs support and be slightly outside their comfort zone – just a notch above their current level for successful learning. This support (scaffolding, in Vygotsky’s terms) is empowering well-performing students and is crucial to building confidence among weaker, less confident, less proficient students and students with disabilities. There is no mention in text, or in pictures, of the teacher walking around the class, checking on and helping those less confident students and those who need guidance. I presume there is online communication about this kind of support
    The author’s deaf mother’s example, however unfortunate her experience was, is the wrong premise for this approach in my view: the supports available in the classroom, e.g. sign language or other learning help and specialised software make learning for students with disabilities as enriching as for other students. I see, however, that the point made here is that all students can learn in the 21st century classroom.
    Bean bags and bad posture when sitting on the chairs = scoliosis in my experience, so…
    Overall, the article is fantastic and empowering. Thank you!

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  21. Absolutely horrific idea. You expect the ppl who doesnt know the basics being able to ask the right questions? Just plain awful idea.

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