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Shifting the focus

Focus

Starr Sackstein said:

How can we shift the focus away from how much a student does to how much they can apply to new tasks?

What can they do now that they couldn’t do before? How do they know?

via http://starrsackstein.com/category/its-not-about-productivity-its-about-learning

Image credit: Enfocando / Focussing, Magec

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

I’m going to try to turn this into a challenge. I’m tagging George Couros, Sylvia Martinez, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, and Steven Anderson.

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!

** Check out the responses from everyone who has participated. Awesome! **

Make school different

(feel free to use this image as desired)

UPDATE

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.

Building a bridge

Peoria bridge

A school board member said to me a while back:

Scott, I hear what you’re saying about active, hands-on, project-based learning. But I got to tell you, when I’m driving over a bridge, I want to have confidence that the people who designed and built it knew what they were doing. So if that takes a lot of practice on worksheets until students know their math and science, so be it.

I responded:

I agree that I don’t want the bridge collapsing under me either! If we want graduates who know how to build solid, long-lasting bridges, we absolutely can have them do a bunch of practice problems on worksheets until we think they know the math and science and we’ll hope that they will remember it later.

… (pause) …

Or we could have them build bridges.

… (pause) …

Who do you think will be better bridge builders?

How do we help our communities understand that authentic learning is possible?

How often do students get to do beautiful work?

Ron Berger said:

Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom – work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.

via http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-student-work-ron-berger

Hat tip: Linda Linn

Is an hour really that subversive?

Audrey Watters said:

we’re seeing calls for an hour: “A Genius Hour.” “An Hour of Code.” An hour.

Is that hour really that subversive? What does it mean that schools are applauded when students are sanctioned – for one hour – to follow their passions? What message does that send them about the rest of their day and week at school? Does an hour even count as incremental change?

Are these efforts transformative? And are they sustainable? Will these hours or days remain in place? Or will they face the same fate of Google’s policy, and be quickly set aside when schools’ goals trump students’ interests?

Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?

via http://hackeducation.com/2015/02/14/genius-hour

Privileging the spreadsheet over the individual

Carl Hendrick wrote:

in many schools it would appear that teachers are working significantly harder than the pupils in their charge, and not so much because the kids are lazy but rather because of an institutionalised miasma that is obsessed with measuring everything (usually poorly) that privileges the spreadsheet over the individual and which has infantilised the process of learning to such a degree that actually knowing stuff is deemed less important than merely appearing to know stuff

via http://staffrm.io/@carlhendrick/dmRoWd4V1D

Go deep

Bob Lenz said:

Teachers have long struggled with the tension between breadth and depth.

It’s a hard choice, hard enough that we are tempted to avoid it, dismiss it as a false choice, or contend that it is a dilemma we can dissolve through tinkering. Maybe we don’t have to choose between covering a lot of content and focusing on a particular concept or skill. Maybe we can find a way to do both at the same time.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The tension is inescapable, and the choice is unavoidable: go with depth.

Depth is what the world demands of us. The explosion of human knowledge is not a 21st century phenomenon; it happened in the last century. Today, in this era of Big Data, explosive can hardly describe the exponential rate of growth. “Every two days,” says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”

So the answer to exploding knowledge is not more schooling but a different kind of schooling. This is what the concept of deeper learning is all about and why it came to be. To pretend that we can “cover” everything that students need to know is to tilt at windmills. We must rid ourselves of any residual notions that education is the transmission of needed knowledge. Rather, we must embrace the reality that we are teaching skills, and one skill most generally: how to ride a tsunami of knowledge whose future content we can’t even begin to imagine.

What this means, ultimately, is that content, though still vitally important, is always a means to the end of some underlying, conceptual understanding. Decades of research bear this out: when deep, conceptual understanding is achieved, learning is enduring, flexible, and real.

via http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_deeply/2015/03/designing_for_deeper_learning.html

Be awesome, 7th graders [VIDEO]

The 7th graders at the International School of Brussels had an entire day of technology- and Internet-suffused awesomeness yesterday. I was asked to send them a short kickoff video for their day since they had previously watched my TEDxDesMoines talk. Here’s what I sent them…

ISB 01

ISB 02

ISB 03

Students already know much of what we’re supposedly ‘teaching’

Graham Nuthall said:

Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.

via The Hidden Lives of Learners, p. 24

We could solve this by pre-testing, yet not enough of us do…

Hat tip: Carl Hendrick

A culture of teaching and learning often produces great achievement but a culture of achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning

Drew Perkins said:

Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is its low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores, it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.

What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.

If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter? 

via http://perkinsed.blogspot.com/2015/01/how-culture-of-achievement-is-hurting.html

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