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When I understand it, why do I have to repeat it twenty times?

Again and again

Students said:

“The teachers used to talk at us all the time, non-stop, but they never actually spoke to us.”

“Can you remember what it feels like to sit at a desk for a whole class, just listening? Have you any idea how much I just want to scream?”

“So, I get the practice part of homework, but when I understand the concept or idea the first time, why do I have to repeat it twenty times? Who made that the magic number of knowing?”

Mike Crowley said:

The truth is that we intuitively know what the word personal means and we understand that in order to make learning personal we need to make connections with young people, we need to make learning meaningful in contexts that are relevant to their current and future lives, and we need to stop doing things that we innately know no longer make sense. Young people want to do math and science, not observe it; they want to write for real audiences on blogs, not write the autobiography of a pencil; they want to address real-world problems in society today, not memorise the past; they want to create, explore, build, move, and express themselves and, most of all, they want to grow in an unshackled environment. Being talked at, sitting passively, engaging in rote learning – the vestiges of a pre-digital past – are no longer acceptable. There is no need for debate here. Our students are no longer listening. For them, learning is only ever personal, and, in order to engage them, to really help them grow, we need to keep the words of Alice in mind: “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”


The core of education needs to take into account the people that are in it

Sir Ken Robinson said:

[The standards movement is] well intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. . . . It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.

By the time [kids] are educated I want them to come out knowing what they are personally good at and interested in, what their strengths are and where they might like to go after school. I want them to feel confident that they can face the challenges that life will throw at them and they can begin to make their way to become productive members of the community.


Compliance remains the central goal

Alfie Kohn said:

Whether or not it’s stated explicitly, compliance remains the central goal of most classroom management programs, character education initiatives, and parenting resources. Sure, we stress the virtues of independent thinking and assertiveness, but mostly in the context of getting kids to resist peer pressure. If a child has the temerity to resist unreasonable rules and demands imposed by adults, well, then, bring on the “consequences” (read: punishments) to “hold them accountable for their behavior.”

What is so offensive about Skinnerian programs like PBIS or Class Dojo isn’t just their methods, which amount to extended exercises in manipulation, but their goal, which is to elicit mindless obedience.


The roars of approval as we revert back to what we’ve always done


George Couros said:

Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.

In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.


Image credit: and the crowd went wild, Tim Bayman

Asking students to work in complete isolation

Sitting alone

Joe Bower said:

I would never ask students to complete anything that is worth doing in complete isolation from their peers, parents, books, or the Internet. I’ve worked hard to encourage my students to see collaboration as a critical characteristic of learning.

Alfie Kohn reminds us that, “I want to see what you can do not what your neighbour can do” is really just code for “I want to see what you can do artificially deprived of the skills and help of the people around you. Rather than seeing how much more you can accomplish in a well-functioning team that’s more authentic like real life.”

In the real world, there simply aren’t that many times you are expected to solve a problem or perform a task in complete isolation – and even if you were, it would be awfully archaic to refuse you the opportunity to reach out for the help you needed to get the task done.


Image credit: Sitting Alone, naraekim0801

Taking an advanced course should not be synonymous with copious amounts of homework

High school student Carolyn Walworth said:

It is time to rethink the way we teach students. It is time to reevaluate and enforce our homework policy. It is time to impose harsher punishments upon teachers who do not comply with district standards such as not assigning homework during finals review time. It is time we wake up to the reality that Palo Alto students teeter on the verge of mental exhaustion every single day. It is time to realize that we work our students to death. It is time to hold school officials accountable. Right now is the time to act.

Effective education does not have to correlate to more stress. Taking an advanced course should not be synonymous with copious amounts of homework. Challenging oneself academically and intellectually should be about just that — a mental challenge which involves understanding concepts at a deeper level. The ever increasing intertwinement between advanced courses and excessive homework baffles me; indeed, I would say that it only demonstrates our district’s shortcomings


Schools, baseball teams, and casinos


Ramona Shelburne said:

[Baseball] franchises that remain static will eventually regress and deteriorate. People, too. So the antidote is to be proactive. Change before you’re forced to. Keep putting yourself in the best positions to succeed. When things break the wrong way, break new ground.

“The mindset in everything we do is to be the casino,” Friedman said. “We want to be the house. We’re going to make a lot of decisions. It’s a high-volume business. We can’t be afraid of making mistakes. The key is to be right more than we’re wrong and … trust that it will work out well.”


True for schools too, not just baseball teams and casinos…

Image credit: Baseball, Peter Miller

Test prep works

Bubble test

Sarah Blaine said:

ten years into private practice, I don’t draw on my two months of intensive bar test prep to advise my clients or manage my work. I don’t rely on essay formulas to craft my briefs, and of course I have never encountered an MBE-style multiple choice question. But the thing is… PMBR and BAR/BRI worked. Test prep works. Test prep taught me to immerse myself in the logic of the test-makers, and how to effectively game the system to achieve my goal: a passing score.

The fact that test prep works is what scares me as a public school parent, because as a parent I know that my child’s standardized test scores tell me virtually nothing about whether she’s actually mastered the academic skills she needs for a successful future.

My two months of bar test prep taught me that mass-produced bar prep can successfully raise scores: my MBE score skyrocketed when I left my inquisitiveness, curiosity, and thoughtfulness at the door, and instead immersed myself completely in the test-makers’ logic. I was willing to engage in two months of intensive test-prep because the stakes were so high: I could have lost my new job for failing the bar. Test prep was a means to an end, and it was an end I wanted (passing the bar so I could begin my career as a litigator at a large law firm), so I was willing to spend (my firm’s) money and my time on the commercial test prep courses. Thankfully, though, our (generally tenured) law school professors focused on preparing us for the practice of law, and not on preparing us for a soon-to-be-forgotten standardized test.

But what will my child gain from devoting 9 of her 13 years of public education to test prep? She might become a genius at immersing herself in the logic of the test makers, but will she learn to write purposefully and well? Will she learn to creatively attack a problem? Will she learn empathy and art appreciation and history and how to work as a member of a team?


Image credit: Bubble World, Benjamin Chun

There is no shortcut

Andreas Schleicher said:

there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people. 


Simply throwing kids into adaptive drill-and-kill software is NOT sustained effort and investment in people (i.e., human capital development)…

Most educational games teach skills, not thinking

Jordan Shapiro said:

The majority of [learning] games fail because they attempt to teach skills rather than thinking. They focus on retention rather than understanding. They miss the whole reason we should be excited about game-based learning in the first place: because it offers the potential to change the common way we approach teaching and learning. Games can help students improve their critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities while offering clear assessment data that could eliminate our dependency on regurgitation and memorization-based evaluations.

Expressing a similar concept, mathematics learning experts often make a distinction between “procedural fluency” and “mathematical thinking,” or “number sense.” Procedural fluency is just what it sounds like, being competent at executing mathematical procedures – like a human calculator. Mathematical thinking has to do with conceptual understanding. . . . simply put: computers can now do most procedural mathematics and individuals need to focus on learning number sense.


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