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Archive for December, 2010

It’s amazing how uninformed some people can be, people who should be informed.

The Atlantic had  a story in their October 2010 issue about how the DIY (do it yourself) movement had somehow tapped into what quality education needs to be like: learning by doing, by building, by exploring.  But, they complain, there aren’t any schools like this yet.  (!)  “When a kid builds… a kite, or  a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics… she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her.  but since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test schools no longer focus on them.” (because they used to?!)

Some do actually do.  The Montessori schools very much value “learning by doing” and if you visit the websites of a few you’ll see that they also value “resourcefulness”, “creativity”, “curiosity” etc.  Kind of makes you wonder. The author even refers to a couple of researchers and psychologists – do none of these people know about this method of education that’s been around for 100 years, is growing hand-over-fist in recent decades, has an impressive track record of turning around failing public schools, and simply “gets the job done”?

After espousing the experimental model, the article states, “No such school exists”.  Unbelievable.  Not to worry, this author will be contacting that author.

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Wow, I love that phrase – it just came to me writing my last post and it was a beautiful lyric. It captures what schools are today – places where you go to get grades, places where grades are made.  You get grades as a form of currency – currency to buy into the next class, the next level, the next school.

But, alas, grades do not tell us much, certainly not what they purport to.  Grades, having been turned into currency – the “grail” of education, no, let’s say of “school” and keep “education” as something good – having been turned into currency are now all that a student goes to school for.  We’ve made the system into nothing more than a “standards fest”, on the mistaken premise that grades and testing measure learning.  Now it’s just grades that matter – good grades mean high standards, goes the thinking.  So we have students seeking good grades as an end in itself  (“learning” is no longer the end being pursued).  And they’ll do whatever they have to to get the grades – cheat, steal, take drugs, copy… it doesn’t matter, only the grade matters.  It’s  a game. We have teachers only teaching what’s going to be on the test, or if they choose to “teach” something that’s not going to be on the test they tell the students – as if to suggest “yeah, this is maybe interesting, but you can tune-out” since I won’t be asking you about it. This happens- all the time.

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What is learning?  And how does it happen?  And is it the same for each of us?

There are voices today speaking out in defense of differentiated learning – of recognizing and respecting that we all learn as we do, and it’s not better or worse, right or wrong- it just is.

Here’s a great take-away from Jane Healy’s new book, Different Learners:   Different not disability.

That’s right.  Our culture has gone gaga (no, not Lady Gaga, that’s something else….) over trying to “fix” children so that they will turn out alright.  Fix them so that their problems will go away, or be masked.  What we’re doing is trying to fit them all into a mold of what a “learner” looks like – suggesting that that’s a singular picture.  It’s not.

Let’s champion who we are.  Let’s accept that we each learn as we do and a school’s job is to help us to discover that and excel in a way that we can.  Traditional schools can’t do this.  They are “one size fits all” institutions.  They stopped being places of learning a while ago.  They are today “grade factories” – a place you go to get grades.

That’s why this space persists: to change the education conversation.

We need more voices calling this out.  Children everyday are being subjected to “assessments” and testing to figure out what’s wrong with them, what their special “learning problem/disability” is and how we can fix it.  These children are being made to feel like there’s something wrong with them, that they are substandard.  That’s not a good mindset to have if you want to learn.  Learning requires a decent sense of self.

Don’t get me wrong – some children have actual, severe learning challenges that absolutely need support.  But they are a minority of who is being screened into special programs, medications, and the like because they have shown a “blip” on the assessment test that was just a little too high.

Onward then, we’ve work to do.  Oh – and read Healy’s new book while you’re at it – there’s much more in there for everybody than what the title suggests.

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So here’s the basic problem: traditional schools operate on the assumption that testing measures learning.  So, we deliver content, “teach”, then we test to see if it stuck.  We test to assess learning.  And then we create STANDARDS that say we need high test scores, which is supposed to translate as “a high degree of learning”.  Well, that would be great, but there’s one problem with this equation… NEWSFLASH….. TESTING DOESN’T MEASURE LEARNING.

WHAT?  Yes, it’s true, it’s all been for naught.  Wasted time studying, wasted time grading.. .wasted paper on “the need for standards”.

But it’s true.  A test does not tell you if someone has learned something, it tells  you if they remember what you said.  That’s very different.  This is, to understate things, a huge problem, of course.  The whole system is based on this premise of what testing supposedly does.

Students all over simply do what they have to do in order to pass the test, get a good grade, and move on.  Because it’s all anyone cares about: “how’d that geometry/physics/english test go dear?” … get a good mark and the conversation quickly ends – parents believe all is well – and maybe you even get a prize/reward (oh no!).  This is it.  We’ve created a  system where grades are all anyone talks about.. they create the standards.  We don’t know how else to do it.  Don’t believe me? Then you’ve forgotten your own experience and haven’t had an honest conversation with a student lately.

Let’s get down to real learning and real assessment of said learning.  We have students in traditional schools going through all kinds of hoops, passing all kinds of tests, who  haven’t learned a damn thing. It’s pretty easy to see what’s going on.

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