I just read a great blog post by Sam Gliksman at the link below. He discusses the critical idea that we need to constantly re-evaluate why we are teaching the skills, concepts, and procedures in our curriculums. What do our students need to know? Gliksman says:
“We each have a concept of what constitutes an ideal education even though it’s likely we’ll disagree on many of its components. There is however one common thread that most of us might agree upon. As strange as it may sound, we aren’t teaching children to become good students in school. After all, school is just a transitionary stage of their lives. Our objective is to educate and prepare them for life outside school. What’s the purpose of helping a student ace a test if the learning required for that test has no real-world meaning for the student? Ideally, we’d like to ensure they develop the necessary skills to become happy, productive adults and solid citizens in their lives outside school.”
In other words, we shouldn’t be preparing them to be students (although lifelong learning is a positive goal), we should be preparing them to handle life outside of school in a productive, ethical manner. The world is changing so quickly. New technologies are emerging and being adopted at an ever increasing pace. It is difficult for teachers to know how to prepare students for the world they will inherit. I don’t think anyone has the definitive answer. But I do think we should ask ourselves “Why?” for each skill, concept, and procedure we are teaching.
I’ve been reading Robert Evans’ book, The Human Side of School Change, and driving everybody crazy quoting what he has to say about trying to implement a change in philosophy and practice in a school setting. The most important message for me is the not-so-new idea that asking a teachers to change their beliefs or their methods challenges the very core of their identity as a teacher. Teachers do what they do in their classrooms because they have come to believe, through experience, that it is the right way to do it. They have seen the effects and the results of their methods first hand. Yet sometimes change is necessary to provide our students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in a world that is different from the world as experienced by their teachers.
My grandmother taught me how to make a killer pound cake – literally. Six eggs, three cups of sugar, three sticks of butter…. this is not a heart-friendly pound cake. But, oh, it melts in your mouth like no other cake can. When I make it, I try to do it just as she taught me because I know that’s what works. But I have to wonder if her grandmother or great-great-grandmother made it the same way. They certainly didn’t have the KitchenAid mixer or the Samsung oven I have. Did they beat the batter by hand? Was their oven heated by wood? Could I make the same cake that way today? Would I want to? Would they watch me do it my way and tell me that my cake is not the same as, not as good as theirs?
Times change. Needs change. Some of the skills we taught our students in the past may not be relevant anymore. Yet that fact does not make it any easier for teachers to embrace change. I think this will be a topic I will revisit many times, trying to find the best ways to ease in new attitudes, new ideas, and new skills. Our students are waiting for us.
For the last three days I have been traveling with a group of educators, visiting schools which are that for the innovative ways they are educating their students. The range of variables in these schools was wide, with two schools close to 150 years old and one less than two years old. Their enrollment varied from 30 students to over 10,000. The physical spaces we saw ranged from elegant old construction to rented office space to brand new, state of the art facilities. Two schools were operating with high end technology and practically no hard copy books, while one school had a rag tag library of donated books and a makeshift collection computers and tech tools.
Yet, while we talked with the administrators, teachers, and students, we heard some common themes expressed at each school.
The students were highly engaged and happy about participating in the learning process. Their learning was sparked by passionate inquiry. This inquiry was driven by a personal desire to learn more about something. The learning process started with questions. They were using a variety of avenues to find the answers to their questions, including some very hands-on methods. The teacher role was very much that of a mentor or coach who provided guidance, support, and encouragement. Failure to answer a question or solve a problem did not mean the end of the learning process. Intentional reflection about the learning process turned failure into part of the journey to reach the answer. Attentiveness, or focus, played a major role in moving toward an answer or solution. There was not a focus on grades. The focus was on the growth of skills, not on acquired facts. These skills are translatable to the real world, beyond school.