We have to stop pretending
When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…
- that short-term memorization equals long-term learning
- that students find meaning in what we’re covering in class
- that low-level facts and procedures are a prerequisite to deeper learning
- that analog learning environments prepare kids for a digital world
- that what we’re doing isn’t boring
Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!
(feel free to use this image as desired)
Since it’s hard to impart nuance in 5 short bullet points, I thought I’d explain my thinking behind what I blogged above (particularly given the thoughtful replies below from Keith Brennan)…
1. Too many teachers cover stuff for a week or two, the kids regurgitate it for a week or two, and then they’re off to the next thing. If you ask the kids six months later, much (most?) of what they ‘learned’ is gone. But we call this process ‘learning.’ And while that may be true for the short term, it’s not very true for the long term. Memorization isn’t the concern, it’s the overemphasis on short-term memory without concurrent attention to long-term memory.
2. My understanding from the cognitive psychologists is that we remember what we attach meaning to. If it’s not meaningful to us (i.e., we don’t find internal reasons to hang on to it), we might keep it for a little while (particularly if we’re forced to) but sooner rather than later it starts to fade away. The challenge is that it’s hard to find meaning in decontextualized fact nuggets and procedures, which is why students have been asking the same questions since time immemorial: ‘Why do we need to know this? Why should we care? What’s the relevance of this to our lives now or in the future?’ We give those questions short shrift in most classrooms and then wonder why students disengage mentally and/or physically.
3. The key word here for me is ‘prerequisite.’ I don’t know anyone who thinks that factual knowledge and procedural knowledge aren’t essential components of robust, deeper learning. What inquiry-, challenge-, project-, and problem-oriented learning spaces seem to show us is that so-called ‘lower-level’ learning doesn’t always have to occur FIRST and often can be uncovered or discovered rather than just initially covered. What needs to come first and what can come later is dependent on the interplay between the individual learner and the surrounding learning context. Coming at learning from larger, more holistic, perhaps real-world-embedded, applied perspectives often can help students attach meaning (and motivation) to factual knowledge and procedural skills. If schools did a better job of eventually getting to deeper learning, this sequencing issue might be less of a concern but too often what should be a foundational floor instead becomes an actual ceiling and students rarely get to go beyond and experience deeper learning opportunities.
4. If I want to learn how to lift boxes, cut down a tree, or lay tarmac, I can only get so far with a digital app or simulation. Similarly, if I want to learn how to be functional and powerful in digital knowledge environments, ink-on-paper learning spaces only get me so far. Schools are supposed to be about knowledge work and nearly all knowledge work these days is heavily technology-suffused. It’s difficult to adequately prepare students for digital information landscapes without regular immersion in and use of digital tools and environments.
5. Kids are bored out of their skulls with much (most?) of what we have them do in class, particularly as they move up the grade levels. Just ask ’em… Our biggest indictment as educators and school systems is that we don’t seem to care very much and simply accept this as an inherent condition of schooling.