Posts Tagged ‘school reform’
This is a follow up to a post I wrote, How Do We Learn? How Should We Learn? The purpose of these posts is to encourage educators to examine practices they take for granted, implement without deep reflection of their efficacy. This post discusses the instructional practice of asking students to memorize information.
How often have students (ourselves included) been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts, get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?
To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding. (When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning)
The more closely we inspect this model of teaching and testing, the more problematic it reveals itself to be. First, there’s the question of what students are made to learn, which often is more oriented to factual material than to a deep understanding of ideas. Second, there’s the question of how students are taught, with a focus on passive absorption: listening to lectures, reading summaries in textbooks, and rehearsing material immediately before being required to cough it back up. Third, there’s the question of why a student has learned something: Knowledge is less likely to be retained if it has been acquired so that one will perform well on a test, as opposed to learning in the context of pursuing projects and solving problems that are personally meaningful. (Alfie Kohn)
The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts.
Memorizing facts often means a waste of students’ time and energy. In some cases, too many cases, learners lose their passion and excitement for a subject or topic that, if taught in another way, may have not been the case.
The Need for Context
Learning facts and knowledge about a content area topic is an important prerequisite to understanding that topic and then developing expertise. The key to this understanding is providing a context for the facts. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts. This is especially true for abstract concepts. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.
Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that learning should not be viewed as simply the transmission of abstract and decontextualised knowledge from one individual to another, but a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed; they suggest that such learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment. (Situated Learning)
Increasing Context and Relevancy
Authentic learning can be the driving force for increasing context and relevancy. Jan Herrington describes authentic learning along two axes – the authenticity of the task is on one axis (from authentic to decontextualised), and the setting is on the other (the classroom/university to the real setting). The goal of educators should be to increase authenticity which leads to more contextual learning (and vice versa).
The following are some suggestions for establishing context (the list is just a start). Ironically, they are practices that are often recommended are best practices in teaching but they aren’t implement as often as they should be:
- Assess and Connect to Learners’ Real Life and Previous Experiences with the Topic – see http://ideaedu.org/research-and-papers/pod-idea-notes-instruction/idea-item-11-related-course-material-real-life
- Use Hands-On and Experiential Activities – see http://www.raft.net/case-for-hands-on-learning
- Use Case Studies and Simulations – see https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/casestudies.html
- Have Learners Engage with Real World Practitioners – see http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/52279118#52279118
- Implement Place-Based Learning – see http://www.ourcurriculummatters.com/What-is-place-based-education.php
The bottom line is that regardless of the content area, students deserve educations that have self-perceived authenticity, relevancy, and a context that makes sense.
I love end of year “best of” lists. My own list is what I found to be the most powerful education related videos of 2014. They all, in some way, address the mind, heart, and spirit of education. Each touched me in some way to help illuminate the purpose and core of education. Let me know of any others that you found of value during 2014!
Malala Yousuf Nobel Prize Speech
So through my story I want to tell other children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights. They should not wait for someone else and their voices are more powerful. Their voices – it would seem that they are weak, but at the time when no one speak, your voice gets so loud that everyone has to listen to it. Everyone has to hear it. So it’s my message to children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights.
Maya Angelou on George Stroumboulopoulos
Always so very beautiful – RIP, beautiful woman!
I must must tell you the truth as I understand it. You might be the last person with whom I speak. Life is life and death is death, so I must tell the truth when I speak.
What I really want to do is be a representative of my race; the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach and to love and to laugh.
Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing You Can Improve
How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of yet? Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting A’s? Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams? Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.
Sir Ken Robinson: Can Creativity Be Taught
Teaching is a process of enabling. It’s a process of giving people opportunities. It’s a process of encouragement. It’s a process of inspiration, of mentoring. Gifted teachers help people discover their creative talents, to nurture them, to hone them, and to become more creative as a result.
President Obama on the Whitehouse Maker Faire
But what’s happening is, is that the young people now are able to learn by doing. So math, science all gets incorporated into the task of actually making something, which the students tell me makes the subject matter that much more interesting. We’re helping schools take shop class into the 21st century, because one of the things I’m really interested in is how do we redesign high schools so that young people are able to do stuff as they are learning.
Toxic Culture of Education: Joshua Katz
THOSE students are marginalized by what I call our “Toxic Culture of Education.” It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, a poetic writer, or a talented musician. THOSE students are the fish being measured on how they climb trees. We need to start paying attention to our students. If a student fails Algebra 1 in the ninth grade, chances are it is not because they do not understand the material. Chances are it’s not because the teacher isn’t teaching. Chances are it’s not because of the school. Chances are it is because the student lacks some type of intangible characteristic (a “Non-Cognitive Behavior”) that enables them to succeed. Things like persistence, initiative, social skills, common sense, a full belly, or a good night’s sleep.
The necessity of the student voice | Catherine Zhang
Our projects seem more like coloring activities than actual content, and we were forced to only consider one interpretation especially on multiple choice tests. We knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we were being taught, but as students we were powerless. At a time we are trying to answer these large questions about the future of education, we’re leaving out this huge portion of the population. Student are this untapped resource. We’re the only ones at the receiving end of education. Asking these educational experts about what appeals to kids without asking students, themselves, is like asking your 92 year old grandmother how to use Instragram when you have a teenager in the house.
Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age – Mitchel Resnick
Not only do new technologies have us rethink what we learn and how we learn, we can also rethink where we learn, when we learn, and with whom we learn. With technology we can be learning all of the time. If we think of technology in the right way, we can break out of old outmoded models of learning. New technologies help us rethink the structures of schools.
Individualization, failure and fun | Cordell Steiner
Failure was an awesome experience and had a purpose. You are able to learn from your failure. You have the opportunity to go back over and over again; and work until you master a skill.
Inspire Her Mind
Isn’t it time we tell her she is PRETTY BRILLIANT, too.
You can help stop the violence against young black men | Verna Myers
And we’ve got to be willing to not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism when black parents don’t have the luxury to do so, especially those who have young black sons. We’ve got to take our lovely darlings, our future, and we’ve got to tell them we have an amazing country with incredible ideals, we have worked incredibly hard, and we have made some progress, but we are not done. We still have in us this old stuff about superiority and it is causing us to embed those further into our institutions and our society and generations, and it is making for despair and disparities and a devastating devaluing of young black men. We still struggle, you have to tell them, with seeing both the color and the character of young black men, but that you, and you expect them, to be part of the forces of change in this society that will stand against injustice and is willing, above all other things, to make a society where young black men can be seen for all of who they are.
If I Knew Then: A Letter to Me on My First Day Teaching
Kid President Throws a Surprise Party for a Retiring Teacher
Erzah French: Sportskid of the Year
You can dream it, you can hope it, you can make it happen; I choose to make it happen.
Malcolm Mitchell Book Club
The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them. Aristotle
Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. John Dewey
My training as an educator occurred through experiential education rather than the traditional route. Experiential Education is based on the following principles as articulated by the Association for Experiential Education:
- Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
- Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
- Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner2 is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
- Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
- The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
- Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
- The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
- Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
- The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
- The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
- Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
- The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. (http://www.aee.org/what-is-ee)
I know no other way of teaching. Knowing the powerful results of experiential education, it confuses me as to why more (if not all) educators don’t teach this way. In the graphic below, the images in the left column are learners from my own classrooms, the images on the right symbolize more traditional approaches in educational institutions. As “A picture says a 1000 words,” the expressions of the learners say engagement, interest, joy, and learning. Which do you want your students, your children to experience at school?