User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘school reform

What are the characteristics of high performing schools?

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I am in the unique position of having several types of education jobs. I teach online graduate courses in educational technology to in-service teachers. I am a cohort facilitator for student teachers; and I am a part-time gifted teacher of elementary students at two different elementary schools that serve Kindergarten through 6th grade students. Out of the 16 elementary schools in my town, these two schools have some of the lowest end-of-year standardized test scores in the entire district; are composed of 85% to 90% Hispanic students; have a high percentage of English Language Learners; and all students on free or reduced lunch. These statistics present a dire picture, don’t they?

I tell my student teachers that when they enter new schools for possible employment, they should be able to see and feel the culture of the school almost immediately upon entering the front doors. Because of this belief, I decided to do a photo essay of the artifacts found on the hallway walls at the schools where I teach:

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Because of the variety of my jobs as well as being an active reader and contributor to social media, I do a lot of thinking and reading about the qualities of high performing schools. Again, the data shows that I work at very low performing schools, but how are intangibles measured? How are the following characteristics, which I see, hear, and feel at both of my schools, measured and quantified?

  • A positive school climate
  • A safe school climate
  • Dedicated teachers who love teaching and their students
  • Creative teachers
  • Students enjoyment of being at school and in learning
  • Student creativity and imagination
  • Lots of laughing and smiling students
  • The arts naturally integrated into content area learning
  • School walls filled with beautiful student artifacts

I wholeheartedly believe I am teaching in high performing schools.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 17, 2016 at 1:24 am

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

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Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

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Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Breaking Things as a Form of Education

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One of my learners’ favorite things to do at my maker education summer camps is taking toys apart – breaking them and then putting back together in another form. This got me thinking that breaking things should be part of every teacher’s and learner’s education. These include:

  • Breaking physical objects apart to see their components and how they work.
  • Breaking apart how the physical classroom is set up and letting learners help create the setting where they will learn.
  • Breaking down barriers of communication . .  between educators and learners; between learners and other learners; between the school and parents; between school and the community; between the community of learners and the rest of the world.
  • Breaking apart and crushing stereotypes about different genders, ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientation when age appropriate.
  • Breaking down walls that keep schools isolated from the world outside of those walls.
  • Breaking attitudes that “we’ve always done it that way.”
  • Breaking a system that believes children should be grouped by age and grade.
  • Breaking (and throwing away forever) the current assessment systems and the related belief that standardized tests actually measure student performance and achievement.
  • Breaking apart the idea and practice that children and youth cannot nor should not be teachers.
  • And one big NOT . . . NOT breaking the natural passion and excitement that humans have to learn.

These are just my initial thoughts. What would you add to this list of breaking things as a form of education? I want to create an infographic on this list so please add to it!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm

Maker Education: Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy

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Maker education is currently a major trend in education. But just saying that one is doing Maker Education really doesn’t define the teaching practices that an educator is using to facilitate it. Maker education takes on many forms. This post provides an overview of how maker education is being implemented based on the teaching practices as defined by the  Pedagogy, Andragogy, Heutagogy (PAH) continuum.

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created by Jon Andrews

Traditionally, Pedagogy was defined as the art of teaching children and Andragogy as teaching adults. These definitions have evolved to reflect teacher practices. As such, andragogical and heutagogical practices can be used with children and youth.

PAH within a Maker Education Framework

The following chart distinguishes and describes maker education within the PAH framework. All teaching styles have a place in Maker Education. For example, pedagogical practices may be needed to teach learners some basic making skills. It helps to scaffold learning, so learners have a foundation for making more complex projects. I do, though, believe that maker education projects and programs should go beyond pedagogical oriented teaching as the overriding goal of maker education is for learners to create something, anything that they haven’t before.

Driving Questions

  • Pedagogy – How well can you create this particular maker education project?
  • Andragogy –  How can this prescribed maker project by adapted and modified?
  • Heutagogy – What do you want to make?

Overall Purpose or Goal

  • Pedagogy – To teach basic skills as a foundation for future projects – scaffolding.
  • Andragogy – To provide some structure so learners can be self-directed.
  • Heutogogy – To establish an environment where learners can determine their own goals, learning paths, processes, and products for making.

Role of the Educator

  • Pedagogy – To teach, demonstrate, help learners do the maker education project correctly.
  • Andragogy – To facilitate, assist learners, mentor
  • Heutagogy – To coach, mentor, be a sounding board, be a guide very much on the side.

Making Process

  • Pedagogy – Use of prescribed kits, templates; step-by-step directions and tutorials.
  • Andragogy  – Use of some templates; learners add their own designs and embellishments.
  • Heutagogy -Open ended; determined by the learner.

Finish Products

  • Pedagogy – A maker project that looks and acts like the original model.
  • Andragogy – A maker project that has some attributes of the original model but that includes the learner’s original ideas.
  • Heutagogy – A maker project that is unique to the learner (& to the learning community).

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Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

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Too often marginalized populations (e.g., some populations of people of color, students from lower economic communities) are approached with a deficit model. Attempts are made to instill in these groups of students the skills to make them successful at the Eurocentric education that dominates most schools in the United States.

The deficit model of education sees kids as

  • lacking in some way
  • defective
  • deficient
  • needing to be fixed
  • not as good as . . .
  • needing to develop skills valued by mainstream society

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at. We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. (http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2013/03/28/stop-deficit-model-thinking/)

Sadly, many educators and administrators aren’t even aware of the deficit model of education prevalent in many schools systems. It follows, then, that they are definitely not aware of the differences between deficit and asset models.

The differences between deficit and strength-based thinking help to explain why efforts to improve the public schools have often been counterproductive and certainly less than sustainable.  Most elected leaders and educational bureaucrats tend to view the public schools in deficit terms and seldom focus on individual and school-wide strengths. (http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference)

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http://www.teacherdrivenchange.org/deficit-strength-difference

The asset model of education approaches kids from marginalized populations as:

  • having unique strengths, passions, and interests
  • being competent and capable in settings that are important to the learners
  • having their own personal powers
  • having much to offer to other learners and their school communities
  • sources for educating others about their communities and cultures
  • thriving in a climate of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning
  • even though they are not marching to the beat of traditional school design, it doesn’t mean they are out of step

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Every child has a gift; the challenge is helping them discover that gift. This strategy focuses on the students’ abilities rather than inabilities. As students understand what they have to offer, they can focus on their abilities to accomplish tasks in any subject area. (http://www.schoolimprovement.com/initializing-asset-based-education/)

There is a growing body of research that urges schools to acknowledge the social and cultural capital present in communities of color and poor communities (Moll & Greenberg, 1990; Gonzalez, 2005; Yosso, 2005). Tara Yosso (2005), for example, critiques static notions of cultural capital that fail to recognize what she refers to as “community cultural wealth”—characteristics, such as resiliency, that students of color and poor students often bring to school that should be recognized and built upon. Similar research by Wenfan Yan (1999) suggests that academically successful African American students bring unique forms of social capital with them into the classroom that are distinct from white, middle-class cultural models and that African American parents tended to contact their children’s schools regarding their teens’ future career aspirations and experiences in schools more than White parents. As this body of research continues to develop, schools and school agents may abandon deficit perspectives, affirm the cultural richness present in these communities, and implement more culturally responsive approaches aimed at improving the educational experiences and outcomes for students of color and students from lower socioeconomic strata. (http://www.education.com/reference/article/cultural-deficit-model/)

Of special interest is the current trend towards maker education in both formal and informal educational environments and insuring equity for all populations:

A huge part of trying to bring equity to every moment of tinkering is to see students as full of strengths from their home community, their families, and their experiences. Kids are brilliant and it’s our responsibility to notice their brilliance and deepen it. This perspective has allowed kids who don’t fit into traditional ideas about what it means to be smart, or academic, thrive in the tinkering space. (http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/03/tinkering-spaces-how-equity-means-more-than-access/)

If we sincerely believe in creating school systems based on equity, then we need to design systems that honor and respect all students.

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Questions Learners Should Be Addressing Every Day at School

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I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:

  • What questions am I asking today?
  • What answers am I seeking today?
  • What am I exploring today?
  • What am I making today?
  • What am I finding exciting today?
  • How am I playing and having fun today?
  • How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
  • What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
  • How am I documenting my learning today?
  • How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
  • What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Maker Education and Social-Emotional Development

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Planning educational activities that incorporate social-emotional learning has broad benefits. Research shows that SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students. Durlak, Weissberg et al.’s recent meta-analysis of 213 rigorous studies of SEL in schools indicates that students receiving quality SEL instruction demonstrated:

  • better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
  • improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
  • fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and
  • reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/outcomes/)

Daniel Goleman and CASEL has identified five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others. (http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/core-competencies)

Maker Education and Social Emotional Learning

Maker education, when planned around skills acquisition, can enhance social-emotional development.

Self-Awareness: Making in all its forms requires a full range of skills including cognitive, physical, and affective skills. Given this need for multiple and diverse skill set, effective and successful making comes from an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and limitations as well as having optimism and confidence that challenges can be overcome within the making process. Example questions related to self-awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to increase my awareness of my emotions and how they influence my performance during the making-related tasks?
  • What are my strengths given this particular making task?
  • What are my limitations and how can I use my strengths to overcome them?

Self-Management: Making, especially making something new, often includes developing goals on the fly, revising those goals, and managing frustrations as the maker works through and learns new skills, processes, and knowledge related to that make. Example questions related to self-management and making include:

  • What processes am I using to develop, assess, and revise my goals while making?
  • What strategies am I using to manage any frustrations or failures that are occurring during making my project?

Social awareness:   A key area of social awareness is that of empathy – good listening and understanding the perspective of others. For many, design thinking goes hand-in-hand with the maker movement and maker education. Not all making is about attempting to design solutions to community and world problems, but building in that aspect has the potential to create more meaningful maker projects.

Making is a fantastic way to engage many students, but it’s only the first step toward an even greater revolution. The future of education cannot be about giving students the skills to fill jobs; it must be about giving them the skills to create jobs. This requires more than technical skills, it requires empathy, context and innovation. The heart of innovation is not technology, but people. Great innovators are able to deeply understand human needs and create useful solutions. Innovation simply requires empathy and experimentation. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2014/07/29/beyond-the-maker-movement-how-the-changemakers-are-the-future-of-education/#328fd30c3b84)

Some example projects of making with useful solutions include:

Sample assessment questions for social awareness and making include:

  • What strategies am I using to find out the perspectives and ideas of potential users of my project?
  • How am I insuring that I am addressing the needs of diverse population of potential users of my project?

Relationship skills: The power of being a maker is amplified when one works collaboratively on projects, gets help from others, and shares findings with others. Example self-assessment questions for relationship skills and making include:

  • How am I using others to help me with my project?
  • How are my peers and I collaborating ?
  • Am I asking for help if and when I get stuck making my project?
  • How am I sharing my ideas with others?

Responsible decision making: Responsible decision making includes considering how one’s decisions surrounding making: (1) affects the safety of oneself and one’s peers, (2) is respectful of the rights of others, and (3) is done with the understanding of the possible of larger consequences for self and others.

  • What am I doing to keep my peers and me physically safe during the making of my project?
  • How am I making decisions that draw upon my own and my peers’ creativity, innovation, and insights?
  • What are the consequences of my actions on my peers and me during making my project?
  • What past projects are informing my decisions for this project?
  • How am I considering the humanitarian and ethical ramifications or consequences of my project?

The following infographic lists all of these questions. Questions should be selected and presented based of the types of maker projects, the goals of the maker projects, and the age of the makers.

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Extreme Learners

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The idea of extreme learners fits so nicely with my ideas of user-generated education. So what follows is an aggregate of ideas, videos, and graphics related to being an extreme learner.

Milton Chen has stated, “Extreme learners aren’t so different from everybody else.” I believe that the tenets and characteristics of extreme learners can apply to every learner given the support, time, and skills to do so. This actually fits with the ideas and characteristics of heutagogy and self-determined learning.

What follows are some resources and ideas related to being and encouraging extreme learners.

Extreme learners are renegades who take charge of their own education. They apply novel feedback mechanisms and optimize their learning experiences. They have learned how to learn. And you can, too. Extreme learners defy traditional definitions of teacher and student. They design their own curricula from online courses, get their hands dirty at community laboratories and hackerspaces, and seek out mentors. They help others learn, participating in an active learning exchange. They are teachers as much as they are learners. (Extreme Learners)

It’s the hunger for learning rather than raw intellect that distinguishes Extreme Learners from the gifted. Intensely motivated and harboring a breadth of interests, they also consider ignorance a temporary and reparable condition. What’s the lesson here for schools? In short, standardization, repetition, and rigidity are deadly for the curious. “Nothing bores me more than seeing a list of redundant facts I have to memorize,” Mollie Cueva-Dabkoski said. Biology class dragged for Thomas Hunt, but the school turned him down when he tried to replace a few classes with work in a lab outside school. “High school is a big day care system,” Roth said. The main takeaway for teachers is, give students more flexibility and choice over what they’re working on,” Milton Chen said. “Give kids the tools to identify their interests and gather information. And help them find like-minded people to work with.”  (What Makes an ‘Extreme Learner’?)

Milton Chen proposes the following 7 Habits of Extreme Learners

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Finally, there is a new initiative entitled XQ: The Super School that appears to be promoting an educational learning environment that supports Extreme Learners:

To rethink school, every participant deserves access to the latest science about learning, the latest understanding about what the true need is, the latest expertise about what kinds of students our educational system must now foster. (http://xqsuperschool.org/about).

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Natural Versus Unnatural Learning

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There is a huge disconnect between how people learn naturally and how students are taught in public education. Mark Twain once quipped, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

In school, students are expected to . . .

  • Sit in uncomfortable desks and chairs, and expected to pay attention for long periods of time.
  • Learn out of textbooks specifically designed for the institution of education – books that almost no one buys in real life.
  • Be quiet, interacting with peers occurs only periodically and only with permission from the teacher.
  • Learn and understand isolated content and topics often without a real world context and in a very linear manner.
  • Learn with same aged peers.
  • Not connect and learn with others outside of the classroom population.

The unintended consequences of these artificial and unnatural ways of learning include believing that learning is or should be difficult, painful, disciplined, and not fun. This, too often, results in learners believing that they cannot or do not want to learn new things especially in those areas where and when learning was painful. (How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn?)

In real life, learners learn through . . .

  • Setting up environmental conditions for themselves – often in comfortable furniture sitting and laying in positions that work for them; eating and drinking when desired; going to the bathroom when needed and by not asking for permission.
  • Moving around and engaging in distractions which can help in processing information.
  • Asking others for information, ideas, and help on an as needed basis.
  • Getting online to explore personalized inquiry about the content they are learning about.
  • Interacting intimately with content related, real life objects.
  • Learning in a context where that learning real world applications. Deep and meaningful learning occurs within a context.
  • Watching and learning from those more experienced than them. Now with technology, this observation can come in the form of videos, social media, and live communication networks such as Skype and Google Hangouts.

I am continually baffled about the gap between what we know about how people learn and the learning practices used in school settings.

There’s a tension in education right now as educators reluctantly part ways with our old reliable teaching methods—an orderly, silent classroom with students organized alphabetically in rows and a teacher lecturing from behind a desk—and begin to accept novel, research-based approaches to learning, such as student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning. (Educating an Original Thinker)

It wouldn’t take that much to change classrooms from places of compliance to places of learning. When I taught gifted elementary students, my classroom was set up with a long table with chairs around it, two sofas, coffee tables, rugs, lamps, bookcases with books and games. I did purchase a lot of these items out of pocket but most of them were bought from a local thrift store for minimal costs. The walls were filled with posters and artifacts created by the kids themselves. The kids would come in and put their shoes in a crate at the front door (this evolved due to their desire to do so). As I had each grade for one full day of the week, many would say, “I love coming to this classroom.”  Other teachers who found their way to my classroom would note its homey appearance.

I rarely stood in front of the learners to lecture, only to explain the learning tasks or show them how to do something. We would start the day outside with a group challenge-team building activity. I would offer hands-on activities and choice menus throughout the day to study interdisciplinary topics. . . a mix of language arts, science, math, and arts. They could work anywhere in the rooms. Some stayed a the table. Some went to the sofa. Others worked on the rugs. The last hour of class was spent on choice time. I had computers, educational games, construction kits, art supplies. My only rule was that they had to be doing something “educational.”  The energy in my classroom was joyful, happy, engaged, and focused. The only thing I would add to my mix, given I had the choice, was having mixed ages to reinforce proximity of learning and scaffolding.

Kids learn social skills best by interacting with other kids, and a wide age range (age four and up) allows older kids to “create ‘scaffolds’ for the younger ones, bringing them up to higher skill levels,” Gray notes. “In turn, the older kids gain a sense of maturity and learn to be nurturing. Explaining things also helps them consolidate and understand the information better.” (Harnessing Children’s Natural Ways of Learning)

I written about school being more like camp. I have a hunch that if these ideas were to become a reality, more kids would love going to school, love learning, and most of all develop attributes, attitudes, and skills for lifelong learning.

school-camp

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

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