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Archive for December, 2013

As has always been the case, schools in the early 21st century are trying to reinvent themselves.  The model is broken. Modern times calls for something new. Achievement is not what it could be.  And so on.

Today we read about flipped classrooms, tablet/tech support for learning, blended learning, amongst other fads.  I mean “fads” seriously.  These ideas will not fix the problem with traditional education because they are more superficial solutions.  “Playing around at the edges” as I call it.  These are not educational innovations that cut to the core assumptions of education.  What are those core assumptions?

  • that learning means remembering
  • that learning can be measured by test taking
  • that learning is about “pouring knowledge into the learner”
  • learning can be packaged in a one size fits all approach

That’s enough to get going.

Until traditional education is willing to look at its soul, to see that its very identity is rotten, it will not be able to remake itself into anything truly valuable to all children, learners, students.  Learning is not about “acquiring”, it is about “becoming” and “constructing”.  Each of us is in a process of becoming from the day of our birth.  We construct ourselves out of our experiences in our environment, equipped with the DNA package we carry.  Education needs to focus on what that environment needs to offer the individual learner, so that s/he can have access to the necessary “stuff of becoming”. Provide a person with the raw material to build themself up from, then stand aside and let them do so.  Learning is an active process for the learner.  If they are not the active one, then the path to actual learning is closed.

Flip your classrooms, incorporate technology, and otherwise tinker with the model all you want.  In five or ten years you’ll be reaching for some other idea that will change education and truly make it effective, and it will always be a distant goal… just out of reach… if only….

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Yes, we all had the experience, and it was never fun.  Some of us experienced more boredom than we did meaningful engagement – true indictment of the system.

When I read this piece in Education Week online, I couldn’t  help but think, “it’s just so wrong that we even have to talk about so much boredom happening.  Why can’t we move to a system where students are actually engaged?”  Then we don;t have to worry about “why” someone is bored, and how they can better manage their boredom, and whose fault it is, and so on.

Such systems exist.  Want true “engagement”? Then study what creates it in/for people.  One source of this is the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his “flow” theory.   Flow is that state that most of us know at least to some extent.  It’s when your skill level or a particular task intersects with the challenge level of the task itself.  The optimal experience is then possible since you are neither bored nor overwhelmed.

What we need are schools that allow students to find flow in their work.  This can only happen when there is self-direction, control over the work, an amount of time that the learner requires – i.e. not dictated by a timetable, a bell or a teacher’s direction – and immediate feedback on how one is doing.  Montessori schools allow for all this.  They place the learner at the center, respect the fact that each learner is unique and needs to take the time s/he needs at any given moment and for any given task or problem, amongst other things.

Csikszentmihalyi has actually studied Montessori schools from the perspective of the flow experience that is available there. You can find some of that story here and here.

SO much more is possible than what most students find in school today, and that’s sad.  School continues to be a negative experience for so many, a place to endure and look for the light at the end of the tunnel.  And we want “lifelong learners” to emerge when the experience we’ve presented them with is unattractive at best and dismal at worst?

 

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