Posts Tagged ‘outcomes’

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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There was a very salient piece in the Huff Post recently.  The author addressed the topic of what she called “life skills”, then later “executive functions”.  I’ve written significantly about these in this space.  They are the “be all and end all” of education as far as I’m concerned.  Without these you cannot live your life successfully.  Full stop.

Why is this so evident to me? Because life requires you to take command of YOUR life, which requires self-control, efficacy, emotional regulation, communication skills, and the like.  This tangent is what will make it or break it for most.  You can have all the academic smarts possible, but if you haven’t developed the above then life will not be a fulfilling and joyful experience.  I think we all know this.  This is not controversial.

The fact that there is research supporting the long-term effects and benefits of early development of these skills (executive functions, self-regulation) surely will help to get some attention, but the fact that they are essential skills should not be questionable.

So where does this leave us?  We need to get serious with retooling education, that’s where.  There are small glimmers of change here and there, but we can fast-forward very effectively and implement a highly successful model now rather than stumble forward ever so slowly and maybe make a bunch of missteps along the way.  We can do this if we look carefully at Montessori schools.  The Montessori model has an integrated approach to developing these essential life skills along with all the academics you could imagine.

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The crisis is still with us.  Grads look for jobs and don’t find them.  People call for a rescue to save them and others.  There’s despair and longing and a sense of hopelessness.  But not everywhere.  For some there’s a better way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  The ones you will see rise up today are the ones who can tap into what made this country what it is: intrinsic motivation, perseverance, inventiveness, confidence, curiosity, boldness, independence and courage.

Watch  this music video and what do  you see?  I see two young people ” just doing what needs to be done”.  They put themselves out there.  They are making something of value because they can, and maybe they have to.  Hand-outs are not ever an answer.  Hand-outs train people to wait for help.  It trains them to “rely on” and become DEpendent.    That’s no future.  Maybe it’s just me but the passion and confidence I see in these two is what will carry them.  Never mind the particular song if you don’t care for it – see the souls of these two, their spirit.  I’m not worried about them.

The world is spinning out and we need young people to understand what will get them ahead.  The ones who are capable of rising themselves up will be the ones to make the future, to carry the world forward.  We need education to play a role in nurturing these young people, to show them that this is possible. We don’t need schools that  train them to sit and wait, to follow the rules, to be lead and to just  do what they are told.  Maybe too many generations of that is taking its toll today.

Education needs a reality check today.  It needs to be able to show all students  (i) that they have something inside themselves that they can contribute, (ii) that they can develop the skills to make that contribution.  But that skill development is not what’s on offer in most schools today.  There’s no path there for the innovators and creators.  Half of them are “tamed” with medication to help them “focus” and be calm and controlled.  That’s a shame because the taming also suppresses that which actually makes them tick, that which would unlock their contribution.

So, “cheers” to those who are striking out on their own, who have discovered their contribution.

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A recent NY Times book review (of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare) discusses the author’s claim that “truly effective teaching… can overcome student indifference, parental disengagement and poverty” – because these things have been shown to act against student achievement in conventional schools.  Making the case that “good teachers” can overcome these would be a good argument for having more of these quality teachers as well as pointing to a possible solution other than the more complicated solution of fixing those things in our culture that leads to these kinds of things in the first place.

All very interesting, but completely beside the point.  What the author, Brill, is looking at is test scores as a measure of student achievement and how “effective teaching” can overcome some of the very obstacles that many teachers argue stand in their way of making progress.  What Brill is missing is the fact that (i) it’s not effective teaching that will solve these problems, it’s a NEW APPROACH to education, and (ii) test scores don’t measure “learning”.

Simply getting better test results in a “content delivery system” model is a low goal, and one that truly lacks an understanding of what an education is supposed to do for a person.  A new approach, a new paradigm, that fully recasts what education is and how it takes place is what can address ALL of the kinds of issues that Brill raises.  The results are in and it’s demonstrable  that a better fundamental approach can correct for all of the factors that Brill identifies.  AND, it doesn’t require parents to become super-parents.

Have a look at the results that have been logged at the East Dallas Community School.  They adopted a new education paradigm – not some window dressing new reading program, not longer school days, not more technology – they  simply  sis one thing: throw away the conventional content delivery model and adopt one that actually works on all levels… they became a Montessori school.


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Recently it was brought to my attention that a new charter high  school in Chicago was being shaped by an innovative idea: allowing students to engage in meaning-making activities, based largely on game-theory.  This is intended to produce students who can think critically.

Meaning-making is indeed one of the necessary core outcomes of a true education, one which has generally failed to exist in the conventional model.  But, the  people behind this new charter program fail to grasp a key point: to direct students in their meaning-making cancels out the very thing you desire to achieve.

The subtle issue here is that of “idea generation”.  The person generating the idea is the one reaping the benefit.  Having others act upon the idea may have some value, if the idea is worthy, but what will not be developed is the ability to generate ideas- to be a critical  thinker, or a thinker at all.  It’s the genesis point that matters.

This new school calls what they’re doing “digital learning” and they explicitly talk about “getting kids hooked on learning” by making learning feel like a video game.  They talk about exploring things actively, with large video screens and tools that are wii-like, to demonstrate principles of physics, for example.

But, if you step back from all the tech jargon you see that it’s simply the latest smoke and mirrors attempt to deliver “content”, much the way conventional education always has.  It’s just the latest “use of technology”, after a long line of technological saviors of education (radio, television, computes, the internet).

In the end, the program description here contains all the misguided principles of old: it’s adult-directed, geared towards covering the curriculum and while the idea that students aren’t sitting in their seats all day long is good (let’s see in practice how it actually works out….) it’s not enough to make a fundamental difference.

Understanding what fundamental change in education looks like just seems to be so challenging, I’m coming to believe.  I guess that’s why paradigm changes are just that.

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There’s been a lot written in this space about the role, purpose and goal of education, especially in the 21st century – today!

In a guest lecturer spot at Oregon State University last month I addressed this issue again.

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Now that’s a headline I’d like to read, if the next line was “over the chaos that is public education, read government schools“.

With the unrest and demand for democracy in the Middle East it seems to me that parents in the US should be clamoring for their own “say” – a say in how their children are being educated.  Parents pay the tax dollars that fun the schools they send their children to.  Parents who send their children to independent/private schools are paying twice for their children’s education.  Why is it that no one is storming the capitol buildings?!  Why are we so passive, so accepting?

Conventional education has made so many promises about reform and “now we’ve got it figured out” and they fail to deliver over and over again.  Einstein was right, wasn’t he, when he said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – isn’t that us?  Isn’t that the legacy of public/conventional education?

It’s time to walk up those stairs and DEMAND something better for our children.  Demand that the schools stop being “schools” in any conventional sense.  Demand that education set as its goal the preparation of people to go off and live their lives, that it be set up to follow natural patterns of development, that it take children on a powerful journey of self-discovery.  Why can’t we have this?  Why aren’t we demanding it?  Since when are Americans willing to put up with something mediocre or worse, and not take matters into their own hands with a little ingenuity and simply come up with a better way? Since when?  What’s happened that the revolution is happening elsewhere and we sit back placidly watching it?

Has freedom lulled us into complacency?

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