Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.
If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’
Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.
[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]
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.
In most online courses and/or ‘adaptive learning systems’ …
- Students do low-level work at times that are convenient.
- Students do low-level work from places that are convenient.
- Students do low-level work on their own, unique path.
- Students do low-level work at their own, unique pace.
But it’s still low-level work.
Digitizing, chunking, and algorithmizing worksheet-like learning tasks doesn’t move them out of the domains of factual recall and procedural regurgitation. The modality doesn’t change the substance of the learning task. Until we are willing to address the kinds of work that we ask students to do on a day-to-day basis, not just the delivery mode, the any time, any place, any path, any pace mantra isn’t going to change a thing…
Jo Boaler said:
data from the 13 million students who took PISA [math] tests showed that the lowest-achieving students worldwide were those who used a memorization strategy – those who thought of math as a set of methods to remember and who approached math by trying to memorize steps. The highest-achieving students were those who thought of math as a set of connected, big ideas.
[wait for it…]
The U.S. has more memorizers than most other countries in the world.
Dan Berrett said:
Rates of scientific literacy among American adults hover below 30 percent. More than a third of them aren’t convinced that the planet is warming, and only half think human activity is causing climate change, despite consensus among scientists that it is. Even long-settled subjects are still clouded by doubt: 30 percent of Americans say parents should be able to choose not to vaccinate their children; 53 percent think humans and dinosaurs coexisted; and 70 percent don’t believe in the Big Bang theory.
Our generally poor understanding of science has critical policymaking implications…
Geoffrey Cohen & Sara Goldrick-Rab said:
Many people think that educating a child is akin to filling a cup. Open heads and pour in knowledge, skills, and virtues. This metaphor is seductive because it calls on deeply-held stereotypes that paint poor and minority children as not having enough drive and smarts.
But the original meaning of education is “to draw out,” not to “fill up.” . . . [we] need to create classrooms that draw out what students already have inside them. Often times, current performance underestimates potential.
[We need to address] the dearth of opportunities for teenage students to feel like [they are] respected and valued in the asylum-like settings of many middle and high schools
[We need to address] curricula that prioritize busy work over reflective thinking that awakens students’ curiosity
Image credit: mandykoh
Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.
All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.
Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.
Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?