Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes


Diana Laufenberg teaches 11th-grade American History at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.


When Diana’s grandparents and parents went to school, the goal was to transfer knowledge from teacher to student. As encyclopedias and the internet arrived, it is no longer necessary for students to simply acquire  facts at school – they can look up information whenever they want. Teachers now need to be comfortable taking a different role.

Diana taught American government, and took a different approach. She instead got her students to organise a night to teach others about the candidates for a local government election. She took a back seat, and it culminated in a night of debate which all students showed up to. Later she asked students in their own voice to discuss how they would use their life positively. She was amazed at the results – all she had to do was ask a genuine question and listen to the results.

She now works in an environment where all students are given laptops – a world where teachers need to be comfortable that they are giving students the tools they need to acquire knowledge. Students now need to explore wider ideas – it is not enough to tell them that all questions have only one right answer. She asked them to build an infographic poster about a major event, and honestly assessed each student telling them what they did well and what they needed to improve. An amount of failure is expected in every project, but only by pointing out failure will they do better next time.

Education is no longer about going to school and getting information. It must be more experiential learning, listening to students’ voice and allowing them to fail.

My Thoughts

Interesting talk – I expect most schools nowadays are adopting more open approaches in the way Diana describes. If not, hopefully they will soon – because the old model of schooling really is obsolete. Students need more than just to be told information, they have to learn skills.

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