“Our work does not change, our work is change. We’re constantly adapting and using new tools to better help students.” – Kader Adjout, USA
“We get our students out of the classroom and give them multiple perspectives,” says Kader Adjout, global history department head at Beaver Country Day School, an independent school for grades 6-12. For Adjout, getting his students “out” doesn’t necessarily mean beyond the physical walls of his classroom. They use Skype to talk with other students in places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and South Korea. They have discussed topics like the revolution in Egypt and voting in Afghanistan. They have even created a video asking the Assads of Syria to Skype with them. “In Egypt, when students were trying to oust President Mubarak, and five minutes later they are Skyping with us, trying to tell us what they were just doing five minutes ago, and what they are going to do in an hour after our discussion, this is amazing,” says Adjout.
Adjout, who grew up in France and studied in Paris and Cambridge, England, has taught French, World Film and Global Media and Politics, and has been instrumental in bringing guest speakers to the Beaver campus to share their perspectives on current events. “I always have been interested in history and politics,” he says. “I see history as an essential tool to know about the past, to understand the present, and to imagine the future. One of the most interesting aspects of history is that its interpretation depends so much on your perspective.”
Adjout estimates that 80 percent of his class curriculum is based around the use of social media. And while he acknowledges that using social media can take more time from traditional curriculum – in addition to the training teachers need – Adjout believes it is the best way for his students to truly understand and take part in authentic learning.
“As a teacher you think, ‘That’s going to take so much of my curriculum,'” says Adjout. “But blow out the curriculum…forget about the curriculum. This is learning at its best and it’s taking part in history – students taking part in it – this goes way beyond any kind of tests. This gives students the type of authentic experience they would never receive from reading a textbook.”
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I’ve always liked being at school — at least as a teacher I have an excuse. I feel that I learn as much as students do, so it is a great place to be.
I still believe teaching is the best job ever and one of the most important. We get the opportunity to re-create the world, change events, take sides, and then change it all again. This is a job where empathy is required in order to learn and understand.I want to learn and understand.
Anyway, it was either teaching or hanging out in a bar in France all day. Hanging out in a bar isn’t bad, but all day is boring.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
My brother, who helped me stay in school.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
At Beaver, we are encouraged to be flexible and take on new initiatives. This becomes a habit, and eventually it actually becomes our work. Our work does not change, our work is change. We’re constantly adapting and using new tools to better help students.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
It’s important to remember that technology needs to remain a tool, not the goal. I’m happy to use technology if it enhances students’ learning and my teaching, but I do not get fixated on technology at every cost. What do my students need? How can it help them? Will technology help us achieve our goals? Those are questions to keep in mind when we use technology.
At the moment, we are playing with coding in our classrooms. It has actually been very successful, as students have used coding as a visualization tool and to present data in creative ways.
We have been using Skype to discuss and debate with students from Afghanistan, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and with South Korean students. Those discussions have been part of a bigger plan; they did not just happen in a vacuum. My students researched topics, interviewed students and experts, went back to their plan, changed it, interviewed students again, and changed their plan again. The process was very interesting, and technology certainly helped in that way.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
I am not sure these devices are changing education. Teachers could be using them in a very traditional way and still lecture their classes; that would not really be innovation. For instance, the use of iPads just to replace textbooks might be a change, but not really progress.
It seems that just focusing on the tool rather than on the practice is very limiting.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
The shift toward authentic assessment or performance-based assessment, which is asking students to transfer knowledge into real-world challenges.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication,collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
The problem-solving element is really interesting (see response in question 1) and seems to connect to all the other skills. Hopefully when we teach, we do it in a way that incorporates all those skills organically rather than forcing them upon students.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Tough question. I’d probably give a different tool to different students at different times. It would depend on their goals, passions and interests.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
The ‘Race to the Top’ is not helping the learning; it has other objectives. A shift toward authentic assessment and problem-based learning to help students demonstrate learning and understanding through collaboration, empathy and critical thinking is needed.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
We are lucky to work in a school that thinks about the student first, so we are always thinking about how to enhance learning. Although sometimes people may ask about the curriculum: if you are Skyping, how are you covering the curriculum? We do not think in terms of curriculum coverage, but in terms of authentic learning. We do have a curriculum and it integrates well with our Skype program.
How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
I would say that there is a choice to make between authentic learning and coverage. There are many possibilities to get connected with other classes – many teachers around the world are asking to connect their students. This will enhance your curriculum and will make it more authentic to your students.
How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?
We see technology as a tool, and whatever we can use to enhance learning, we will use. We have used social media, coding and Skype among others, always with the goal of improving our teaching and enabling students to learn differently.
About Kader Adjout
Global History Department Head
Beaver Country Day School
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA
Twitter handle: @bcdschool
- Birthplace: France
- Current residence: Somerville, Massachusetts
- Education: MA International Relations, Paris & M. Ed., Cambridge University
- Website I check everyday: Many different types of websites: world news, education
- Person who inspires me most: Sorry for the cliché response, but many persons in my family.
- Favorite childhood memory: Soccer games with friends until late, and all the arguments that followed.
- Next travel destination: France
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh everyday thanks to my daughter and my wife, especially when we are at the dinner table.
- Favorite Book: Children of the Days by Eduardo Galeano
- Favorite Music: All kinds of music; it depends on the mood.
- What’s the best advice you have ever received? Be respectful and patient, it will come.
- Your favorite quote or motto: There are no tall people or little people; the perfect height is when your feet touch the ground.