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As defined by Prensky (p. 13), partnering lets students and teachers focus on those aspects of learning they can do best. This involves giving students central responsibility for: finding and following their passion, using whatever technology is available, researching and finding information, answering questions and sharing their thoughts and opinions, practicing--when properly motivated, and creating presentations in text and multimedia. For their part, teachers should: create and ask the right questions, give guidance, put material in context, explain one-on-one, create rigour and ensure quality. Fundamentally, partnering requires, either as initial or subsequent steps, the establishment of new relationships between teachers and students.
Prensky's central contention relating to partnering pedagogy, based on his key underlying assumption that students in classrooms are not what they used to be and are dissatisfied with an education that doesn't speak immediately to their world views (p. xv), is best represented in the original and in full:
... by asking interesting guiding questions and letting each student relate to them and answer them in his or her own way, individually and working with peers, and then by allowing each student to discuss and refine the work in his or her own way with the teacher's guidance, each student will be able to relate much of the curriculum to his or her own interests and passions. By doing so, students will be much more motivated to work and practice than they are by a telling-and-worksheet pedagogy. (pp. 162-3)
This statement is, I believe, a well-intentioned yet familiar characterisation of good teaching, in general terms.
I am confident mainstream teachers, school leaders, and parents and guardians will be interested in Prensky's frequent Partnering Tips and the contents of Chapter 7, especially, where over 130 digital tools are listed and described for partnering students to use. However, academics and educators with a keen sense of contemporary schooling issues will, I suspect, be disappointed by the author's rather simplistic and often repetitive treatment of pedagogy and classroom practice. There are three main points to note.
First and foremost, partnering pedagogy, as Prensky fully acknowledges (p. 15), is not new. It draws on and falls into the richer traditions and practices of: student-centred, problem-based and inquiry-based learning to mention just three. Prensky prefers the term partnering because he says it emphasizes the equality of teachers' and students' roles and how each side must cooperate and leverage on particular strengths to improve learning as a whole (p. 15). However, Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff and David Dywer (1997) made and illustrated similar points a long time ago.
Second, for a book squarely focused on pedagogy (and purporting to deliver, according to the blurb on the back cover, "a new paradigm for teaching and learning in the 21st century"), Prensky does not define pedagogy, at all. From what can be gleaned from the bulleted lists, tips and potted descriptions populating the book, pedagogy is a set of skills and instructional practices to be learnt and implemented in the classroom. This characterisation of pedagogy in my view fails to account for the discourse and dynamism underpinning the acts of teaching and learning. Let me explain.
Following Robin Alexander (2004) teaching is a practical and observable act and this suggests that the connections and interrelationships between what teachers do, what they need to know, and what they need to explain and defend to others, and themselves, are crucial to understanding teaching and learning interactions. The notion of pedagogy as discourse implies conversation, discussion, debate, conjecture and rebuttal. If accepted, pedagogy, then, is dynamic and necessarily uncertain. Beyond classrooms, it is framed, understood and played out in a variety of locations including, staff meetings, corridors, seminars, workshops and conferences. Who is in and who is out of these spaces, determines what pedagogy is and what it is not.
Additionally, the vital connections between culture and pedagogy, although extensive and varied, are not mentioned (see Alexander, 2000, for a comprehensive empirical study).
Third, and more generally, the broad brushstrokes of Prensky's supporting argument for partnering pedagogy tend to paint an incomplete and potentially misleading picture in what is involved in designing and implementing new or different patterns of teaching and learning interactions. For example, in the short chapter on assessment, it is stated that one of the "best ways" to assess students is by giving them necessary and helpful (formative) feedback (p. 179). I agree. Slightly earlier, Prensky critiques current formative assessment practices in schools along as follows:
The trouble ... is that the feedback comes too late and is too far removed from the creation of the work and the decisions students made to be useful. So despite teachers' often herculean efforts to mark and return homework or tests, the feedback does little to actually help students improve. Because assessment is only truly formative if feedback is actually read, thought about and acted upon. (p. 176)
I think it is right to single out the inappropriateness and questionable usefulness of feedback when it is untimely. However, Prensky is unclear about how students might respond to the comments they receive on their work. As I understand it, feedback performs a formative function when it informs and drives changes in teaching and learning to better coordinate and close gaps between present levels of performance and desired learning outcomes. As such, acting on feedback relates as much to teachers as it does students (see Black & Wiliam, 1998a, 1998b and 2003, for more detail). Further, Prensky omits to mention how prior monitoring (for formative purposes) of students' work in progress occurs. Other notable areas in the argument that require fleshing out include: essential questioning and understanding (see Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), task design and implementation (see Towndrow, 2007), and literacy with new media (Jewitt, 2008; Kress, 2003; Kress & van Leeuwen).
In sum, despite previously published concerns about the validity of Prensky's digital natives/immigrants dichotomy and the "engage me or enrage me" polemic (e.g., Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2008), this book is likely to serve useful functions as an entry level text on Digital Age education and a prompt for "thinking more broadly about education in general" (p. 190). However, and for the present, there is little new scholarship in this book, which for me raises more questions than it can reasonably answer. Three items come immediately to mind concerning unfilled gaps in the field of partnering pedagogy. To show its sustainability, we need: (i) exemplars of complete units of work and individual lesson plans that have partnering at their core, (ii) descriptive and exploratory case studies of partnering from various cultural, social and economic contexts and (iii) explanations and illustrations of how whole schools (and later school districts) can be transformed--not merely tinkered with--through partnering.
Alexander, R. (2000). Culture and pedagogy: International comparisons in primary education. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The 'digital natives' debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-788.
Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principals, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7-74.
Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-148.
Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (2003). 'In praise of educational research':Formative assessment. British Journal of Educational Technology, 29(5), 623-637.
Alexander, R. (2004). Still no pedagogy? Principle, pragmatism and compliance in primary education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 34(1), 7-33.
Jewitt, C. (2008). Multimodality and literacy in school classrooms. Review of Research in Education, 32, 241-267.
Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Arnold.
Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. London: Routledge.
Sandholtz, J. M., Ringstaff, C., & Dywer, D. C. (1997). Teaching with technology: Creating student-centred classrooms. Teachers College: New York.
Towndrow, P. A. (2007). Task design, implementation and assessment: Integrating information and communication technology in English language teaching and learning. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning OverviewPrensky presents a model for 21st-century teaching and learning, in which students become learners and creators of knowledge through technology while teachers guide and assess student learning.
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