Sometimes I’m really shocked by the ideas that people have about teaching, and, sometimes, I’m not surprised at all. The latest idea to not surprise me is mind-reading robot teachers!
Evidently, the problem these robots are designed to solve is that students don’t pay attention to their teachers like they should. Their little minds wander. Robots can detect these wandering minds and perform some kind of cue to get kids to focus on the teacher. Maybe they drop a book or whistle a tune. Anyway, the point is to get these unengaged students to keep their eyes and brains on what the teacher is saying.
So what assumption does this educational practice make about what causes students to learn? Good teachers know how to make students pay attention to what they are saying.
As any thinking teacher can say, getting students to pay attention to what you’re saying is not what is challenging about teaching. What’s difficult about teaching is designing instruction that revolves around meaningful tasks where students use content knowledge to create and think critically.
Sure, sometimes students don’t engage with these tasks, even if they are authentic, complex, and meaningful. I don’t think the answer is getting them to pay attention, however. The problem is school cultures that support passive learning along with students’ lack of self-direction, metacognition, and an understanding of why such tasks are important and what they are going to get out of them.
There may well be a role for robots in classrooms of the future. But if students are going to learn deeply, instruction needs to focus on making what students do more carefully designed to meet high-level objectives, not on what teachers do as presenters to make students pay closer attention.
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