July 14, 2009

Verbs vs. Nouns

[repost of a post to Will Richardson's blog}:

[The] question [of lasting skills vs new technologies] which seems so thorny, is easily approached, I think, by making a distinction between “verbs” and “nouns”.

“Verbs” are the skills you, I, Diane Ravich, and everyone else thinks people should know, and learn as students. They include the skills you mention above: to collaborate, to solve problems, to think critically, to be creative, plus many others: e.g. to persuade, to present logicaly (I list 50 in my new book.) These verbs or skills, as Ravich points out, don’t change very much over time.

“Nouns,” on the other hand, are the tools (aka technolgogies) people use to practice and do these skills. Nouns have always changed over time, e.g. memorizing to writing, papyrus to paper, quills to fountain pens, handwriting to keyboarding. Today nouns are changing extremely rapidly: Powerpoint to Flash, email to IM, Myspace to Facebook to Twitter, encyclopedias to Wikipedia, local disks to cloud, reading to watching short video, laptops to smartphones, etc.

In my view, our goal should be that our learners use, to the extent possible, the best and most up-to-date nouns (tools) to learn and perform each key verb (skill). Older tools often still work for a time (e.g. books), and others work less well (e.g. slide rules). But technology will continue to provide us with better nouns for each of the verbs.

In teaching, our focus needs to be on the verbs, which don’t change very much, and NOT on the nouns (i.e. the technologies) which change rapidly and which are only a means. For teachers to fixate on any particular noun as the “best” way (be it books or blogs, for example) is not good for our students, as new and better nouns will shortly emerge and will continue to emerge over the course of their lifetimes. Our teaching should instead focus on the verbs (i.e. skills) students need to master, making it clear to the students (and to the teachers) that there are many tools learners can use to practice and apply them.

This verb-noun distinction is one of the key points of my upcoming book, Partnering with Your Students. (You are welcome to a pre-read!) Also see "Are you lecturing about nouns or facilitating learning with verbs?"

In terms of practically doing this, the only way all the newly emerging nouns (technologies) will work in our classrooms is if they are used to support the “new” peagogical paradigm of kids learning on their own (with their teachers’ coaching and guidance.) Technology only supports the “lecturing” paradigm in the most trivial of ways, such as showing pictures and videos. But technology supports the new pedagogy really well–it is all the new “nouns” that can be used by students as they learn to do all the “verbs” on their own. For more on this see "The Role of Technology in Teaching and the Classroom"

I will be presenting on both of these points at BLC09 in a few weeks. See you there.


Posted by Marc at 09:43 AM | Comments (32720)