I love to visit schools that are trying to live on the cutting edges of deeper learning, student empowerment, and digital technologies. But, like most of you, I don’t get to do that nearly as often as I’d like. So I’m jealous of folks like Barbara Levin and Lynne Schrum who get to do case studies of innovative school organizations around the country. And of whomever at Edutopia gets to work on the Schools That Work series.
Now I’ve got a new target of envy. Here’s a video of Grant Lichtman describing what he learned from his 3-month, 21-state, 64-school tour of innovative educational systems. Except for the time away from my family, that sure sounds fun to me. Happy viewing!
We thrive when we learn according to ourselves; we wither when we learn at the beck and call of others. We build community and sow trust when we protect others’ rights to learn as they are; we throttle community and reap mistrust when we insist that others learn as we do – or as we teach.
When we make with others we tacitly discover not only our own weirdnesses – and not only others’ weirdnesses – but also our ability to value ourselves and others for our weirdness and their weirdness.
Weirdness is a place we carry together, in idiosyncratic contrast and invitation to one another to appreciate, understand, and affirm how we learn and express ourselves. Appreciating and sharing weirdness is making stuff – including writing – with students. Appreciating and sharing weirdness is connected learning.
The most dangerous thing we do when we comply with the standardization of schools is to assume that we and our kids will survive it – that we can get through one more lesson. One more test. One more year. One more education. One more job. One more life.
We are not all of us one more life to get through. We are weird, until we are not. We can grow up to be ourselves, until we cannot. We can learn anything we want, until we learn to believe we cannot.
I don’t know what to do about failing schools. I don’t know how to argue someone who wants a standardized education for financial security and social mobility (even though that kind of education is not a guarantee of either anymore). I do know how to teach and learn as if what I want to learn will help me happily live the life I lead. I know that is a privileged stance, and I desperately want help in unpacking how it can become a universal one for all of us in all schools. If my privilege right now lets me make these wishes and do such work, then that is what my privilege should be for – for making it safe to be weird and alive and learning.
I have strong feelings about what kids should learn, which is why I’d put them in charge of their own educations. Experience assures me they’ll get where they need to go, and do so more efficiently than will otherwise be possible. Experience also tells me that won’t happen as long as they’re fenced in by a random mix of courses required because they’ve always been required, by courses based on elitist conceits, by courses shaped by unexamined assumptions. The core’s boundaries are far too narrow to accommodate the collective genius of adolescents.
Kids bring to the curriculum vast differences – differences in gender, maturity, personality, interests, hopes, dreams, abilities, life experiences, situation, family, peers, language, ethnicity, social class, culture, probable and possible futures, and certain indefinable qualities, all combined in dynamic, continuously evolving ways so complex they lie beyond ordinary understanding.
Today’s reformers seem unable or unwilling to grasp the instructional implications of those differences and that complexity. They treat kids as a given, undifferentiated except by grade level, with the core curriculum the lone operative variable. Just standardize and fine-tune the core, they insist, and all will be well.
That’s magical thinking, and it’s dumping genius on the street.
Don’t tell me I’m naïve, that high school kids can’t be trusted with that much responsibility, or that they’re too dumb to know what to do with it. Would it take them awhile to get used to unaccustomed autonomy? Sure. Would they suspect that the respect being shown them was faked and test it out? Of course. Would they at first opt for what they thought was Easy Street? You can count on it.
Eventually, however, their natural curiosity and the desire to make better sense of experience would get the better of them, and they’d discover that Easy Street connected directly to all other streets, and that following it was taking them places they had no intention of going, or even knew existed.
I adopted Leonardo da Vinci’s 7 Principles as a guide and was especially attracted to Sfumato, usually translated as “Up in Smoke,” meaning to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Great things are produced and discovered when you open the door to possibilities and leave some things undefined. When I did that, there was difficulty adjusting as kids had been trained to give the right answers. My response was there may be none and that I was more interested in originality, creativity, and being able to explain and defend one’s thinking. En Garde!
However, once kids realized that they were full partners in their learning and that most anything was possible, they brought me to tears with their work.
Anonymous teacher via http://dianeravitch.net/2013/01/02/when-students-love-learning
[Warning: long post]
I’m at the SAIS/MISBO conference in Atlanta, Georgia. My keynote and workshops aren’t until tomorrow so today I’m just a learner. Right now I’m sitting in a session titled 21st century education: Flaws, fixes, further thoughts, facilitated by Matt Gossage and David Streight. David is the director of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education. Matt is the Head of the Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina. Most of the session attendees are heads of independent schools or school business managers. Here are my notes… [much of this is paraphrased]
A few years ago, I began to feel an assault as I was bombarded by journalistic and educational calls for my school and me to incorporate 21st century skills. It was like a course I had to take that I wasn’t interested in. How many lists of competencies have you seen that are supposed to be part of 21st century learning? I pushed back with my head, not my whole self.
Watching my son go through college counseling made me reframe much of this, however: What are the essentials for my son? Can he relate to other people? Can he put a stake in the ground that’s uniquely his? Does he have the resolve to stand for something because he owns it in his heart? And so on… And for my granddaughter, what kind of schools is she going to attend? Is someone going to claim her, pick her up, and dust her off when she needs it? Is someone going to help her be discerning, to have hope?
The 21st century skills list seems to blow right by many of the fundamentals. I’m not against these competencies, but I think there’s a layer underneath to which we need to pay attention. The government-owned Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska, is now an empty shell because its purpose is no longer viable. Are we in danger of turning out graduates who have certain skills and competencies but are empty shells inside?
David ( if you want a copy of the slides)
There’s a huge body of research that says that we do our best work when we experience Relatedness, Autonomy, and Self-efficacy. If at your job you didn’t like the people (and maybe they didn’t like you), you had no say over anything, and the work bored you out of your mind, you’d HATE it! For how many of your students do these hold true?
Center for Public Education, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the 21st Century Skills LLC, Tony Wagner’s ‘survival skills,’ Pat Bassett’s 6 Cs, the NAIS/SoF competencies, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences / 5 minds, and so on. All of these are 21st century competency lists…
The big 7 (occur across multiple lists)
- critical thinking / problem solving
- creativity / innovation
- media / technology / digital literacy
- cross-cultural skills / diversity
- initiative / self-direction
- oral and written communication
Other frequently-mentioned 21st century competencies
- green / ecoliteracy
- math / finance literacy
- social / emotional literacy
- flexibility / adaptability
Is the purpose of education in the 21st century the same as it was in previous centuries? Are our 21st century goals aligned with our mission goals? Are we creating a better world or a faster world or a different world?
Wagner’s ‘survival skills’ are based on concerns about global workforce preparation / economic needs. Should these be the primary drivers of what we do as educators?
Fixes - Focus on goals consistent with your mission. We need to glean the best from the 20th century, be open to the new and unexpected, and take the best of what’s available out there. Teresa Amabile, How to Kill Creativity – people are most creative when they feel motivated primarily by interest, satisfaction, and the pleasure of the work, NOT by external pressures.
Autonomy - “We give our kids a lot of autonomy” – it’s not how much autonomy you have, it’s how much autonomy that you perceive that you have that fosters your best work. The more perceived autonomy, the greater the persistence, performance, and well-being. Lots of research to support this. Ways to kill it: extrinsic rewards, threats, deadlines, directives, and competition.
Relatedness (social engagement) - Perceptions of connectedness, warmth, and trust are key.
Self-efficacy - “I have the skills to meet challenges.” ‘Mastery’ over important components in the environment. We build self-efficacy through mastery experiences, seeing others can do it, encouragement/persuasion (by ‘relateds’), mood.
The extrinsic to intrinsic ladder: 1. ‘buy me off’ (resistance); 2. ‘my ego is at stake’ (give me status, avoids shame); 3. ‘this has importance’ (goals identified); 4. ‘this is me!’ You remember better the higher up the intrinsic ladder you are. And you can live deeper conceptually. We can help students internalize motivation: Did I choose to study this or did somebody make me study this?
Making motivation internal: 1. provide a meaningful rationale (understand importance), 2. acknowledge feelings (person feels understood), and 3. offer choice rather than control (feel responsibility for the behavior). 2 or 3 of these factors = internalization tends to be integrated. 1 or 0 present = internalization tends to be introjected.
Benefits of Relatedness, Autonomy, and Self-Efficacy (RAS): psychological health (less anxiety, greater coping), sense of well-being, conceptual understanding, academic performance, standardized test scores, enjoyment of learning, attitudes toward school, self-regulation (start & sustain behaviors, persistence), creativity, confidence.
7 questions that make all the difference (each on scale of 1-5)
- People at school like me
- I can trust the people around me
- I am capable of saying no when friends pressure me
- I have an appropriate amount of control over my life
- I get to choose lots of things throughout my day
- I am learning important things at school
- I love the challenges that school offers me
- We have parents with very high expectations for their children. In elementary school they begin to incentivize behavior and issue rewards in ways that, over time, often kill their kids’ own creativity and interest in learning.
- We have to spend a lot of time educating and working with our parents. And talking about what we stand for, not just what we do.
- Our teachers thought our scores and grades would go down as we assigned less homework. But our scores and grades went up.
- Streight: We stopped talking about ‘success’ and instead started talking about living a life of significance
My own closing thoughts
Is a focus on ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ a luxury of the middle class or affluent, because the rest are just struggling to survive? Conversely, is economic success worth it if it lacks meaning?
We have become a nation of test-givers, assessing student performance and knowledge in a way that is largely exempt from any kind of real-life application. As important as standard assessments are, relevant and authentic assessments are even more vital. Educators must give assignments that engage students’ curiosity and imagination instead of those that hold little authenticity and are simply to satisfy answers to a test; when they do, students will rise. They will lean into the issues they face in literature and current issues in the world if given the chance, and it is inspiring to see that, when given an opportunity to voice their opinions and share experiences, they can do just that.
In this kind of atmosphere, compliancy gives way to engagement and it is here where students find their own voices, where they uncover the seeds of their own stories and where they discover themselves.
Ann Camacho via http://smartblogs.com/education/2012/10/02/life-literature