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Archive for September, 2011

In a valiant effort to make the case for better homework, Annie Murphy Paul in her recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times simply fails to grasp the immensity of what she’s up against.  She truly can’t see the forest for the trees.

Paul goes on about how the better way to approach homework can be found in some studies that show how to improve test scores and retention via some “new methods”.  Those would be “trees”.  The forest is a real education, real learning.  Paul has no idea that better test scores are not an indication of better, or actual, learning, just as better retention (recall) is also not an indication of learning.  Learning is most emphatically NOT remembering. That’s been addressed here before, so let’s not go there.

Great that she sees that most homework out there is busywork and of little value, but unfortunate that the solution is focused on improving test scores.  Why is it so darn difficult to understand that learning is something different from retention as evidenced on a test?  Is this such a radical idea? So thoroughly on the educational margin that it’s out of focus to most –  strike that, it’s not out of focus, it’s out of sight.  Sadly, some educators will jump on this latest “fix”, change-up their approach to homework, have a parent night about how this will repair things and “boy, have we got a great solution for your kids”…. and in 3-5 years they’ll move on to something else, having forgotten that THIS was supposed to be the fix.  What a system: conceive, apply,  fail, repeat.

However, those marginalia ideas are out there, and slowly, in little blips, they  are making headway.

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What on earth will it take?

The NY Times ran a story the other day about an Arizona school district that has spent millions of dollars on classroom technology over the past 5 years, with little to show for it when it comes to assessing learning.  How many such stories do we need before we come to realize that the way to improve learning is not to replace the teacher’s chalkboard with an electronic one, it’s to replace the teacher’s style, approach and materials.

Stories about how technology has failed to make any gains have been around as long as technologies have been touted as silver bullets.  It’s true – look it up.  It doesn’t matter whether it was the radio (yes!), television, computers, the internet or smart boards – every one of these was championed as the thing that will solve the educational problem- the holy grail of education.  Not one ever did.  Not one ever will.

The problem, as has been written about extensively in this space, is one of style not technology.  The solution lies not in how we present content to learners but in the very emphasis of presenting content.  Conventional education remains what I call a “content delivery system” with its emphasis on passing along content, as if that’s what learning amounts to or how it occurs.  Until we come to recognize that learning is something the learner does, through a process of self-directed, self-initiated action, we’ll not make any meaningful, long-lasting improvements to education.

Has our culture been so permanently hoodwinked by flash and speed that we can no longer see the issue for what it is?

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