5 whys and 4 negotiables


I enjoyed Pam Lowe’s recent post about personalized learning. She asked four important questions:

  • Why does everyone have to learn the same thing?
  • Why can’t learners learn what they want to learn?
  • Can learners choose their own learning tools?
  • Why do learners have to learn the way a teacher says?

Using Peter Pappas’ four negotiables of student-centered learning, we can see that Pam’s four questions center around the first two ‘negotiables.’ We can tack on the other two from Peter and get a list that looks something like this:

  1. Why does everyone have to learn the same thing?
  2. Why does everyone have to learn in the same way?
  3. Why does everyone have to show their knowledge and skills in the same way?
  4. Why does everyone have to be assessed in the same way?

I think it would be valuable for schools to use a 5 Whys approach to really dig into these latter four questions. Doing so would allow us to uncover existing belief systems and would reveal the widespread variability that exists across educators – even when we’re in the same building – in terms of both instructional ideologies and classroom practices. Too often we believe that we have shared understandings and commitments around learning and teaching that simply aren’t there. Making the effort to peel back our hidden layers of disagreement could have a transformative impact on the kinds of conversations that we’re able to have and the kinds of changes that might result in students’ learning experiences.

Dare to ask the 5 whys around the 4 negotiables. Let us know how it went!

Image credit: Students travel around the world with books, US Army Garrison Red Cloud – Casey

4 Responses to “5 whys and 4 negotiables”

  1. And here we run into the difference between the way words are used between different groups. Many of the people pushing “personalized” learning mean that the same content will be presented to different students at different rates (using adaptive testing or packaged instruction), as opposed to actual personalized learning where students can pursuit their interests and passions. Beware the reality of what many of the people selling “personalized” learning, who really mean automated instruction of the same material.
    The difficultly with fully authentic personalized learning is simply time. If the teacher has 120 students and spends 5 minutes per day (average) monitoring and evaluating a student’s progress, that’s 50 hours per week. If you include any traditional instruction you are very quickly running into 60, 70, 80 hour weeks. It is easy to make Potemkin Schools were the student to teacher ratio is 20:1 or less and these type of systems appear to work, but no one will fund this for general education.

  2. Take a look at Liberty Elementary in RUSD. It’s one of many schools implementing authentic personalized learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvHI_agnlB4 .

  3. The right questions- WHY?
    The answers to these questions reveal all the problems of modern education and ways of their solution.

  4. Educators are often asked to improve questioning techniques by asking students “why” questions. These questions allow students to dig deeper and come up with rationales. The same should apply to asking the five why’s around the four negotiables. After all, having a shared vision is the foundation for learning and school success! Everyone should have the answers to these questions; we just have to have the willingness to ask.

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