Monday, August 11, 2014

#10summerblogs: What's the next step? The education reform waltz.

The schools we work in today are modeled from the needs and requirements of the school that was completely necessary in the 1950's. This school created people who went and worked for the company. They got the job, did well at the job, and were rewarded with the ability to provide for their families.

This model is no longer reality.

This school measured accrued intelligence by the ability of a student to reside in a classroom the required time to complete the grade level with a proficiency rating of 60% or greater. That ability to withstand the proffering was rewarded with advancement to the next grade where they would again muster the ability to persevere. The belief that the Carnegie Unit can measure one's ability to contribute to the 21st century's needs is akin to the notion that auditing a rocket science class qualifies me to pilot a space ship.

So, what's the next step? Well, I think there are three. We'll call it the education reform waltz.

The creation of relevant content.

If you have read my blog, you know how I feel about "answers." We have conditioned our students to manipulate information rather than focusing on proving their learning. What is the difference between filling out a worksheet and giving a well reasoned opinion on a topic? Students in my classroom constantly want to know, "What do I have to do?" They are used to receiving an answer, "Write a five page paper." What we need to consider is when they ask, "What do I have to do?" We answer, "Create a product that proves you learned ________."

They create in their non-school lives all the time. Vine lets them create, direct, and star in their own six second movie. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow students to manage their online profiles. They create a pseudo digital character.

But the funny thing is; they find this sort of creation relevant. In school they write a report, make a poster, or something else that is laid out for them. They don't create it. There is no connection between the task at hand and how they see their future being. As I have said before, when students question why "we" are learning this, we should not see it as a challenge, but as the rubric that evaluates what we teach.

I was in a session at an EdCamp today about student engagement and how to encourage students to participate in your class. There were many ideas thrown out: Proximity, clickers, QR codes. What if we just made sure that what we were teaching was engaging and that students understood the 'why' of what we were teaching to the extent they accepted its necessity in the curriculum?


This relevant content they are creating in their non-school lives, they are sharing. They are living lives digitally away from their friends that commingle with their analog lives when they are with their friends. How many times have you heard this conversation?

"Hey, did you see that thing of Facebook?"
"Yeah, that was awesome."

Kids are connected. Why should we refuse that connection when they are at school? I teach in a middle school and if kids are on SnapChat at school they get in trouble. I agree with this. This is not the type of connection that I am talking about. The connection I am talking about starts with the faces that share the classroom space. Again, I'm repeating myself. If the product, the proof of learning, dies on the desk of the teacher, it means nothing. However, if the proof of learning is shared with the classroom community in a way that showcases the individuality of the student and then, even further, leaves the school and can be viewed by the community, the quality and impact of learning is exponentially increased. Use this connection. Share.

Student Voice

If there is one singular passion I posses for education, it is unleashing the power of student voice in the classroom. I firmly believe the people most affected by education are those who are least consulted about that education. It is high time we stop using our students as a repository of education, and start using our students as a primary resource for the reform of that education. 

Take this as an example: Hey, whole class, I want you to learn this thing in this particular way. I know that 45% of you can learn this thing this way, and that 55% of you can't. But, I'm really comfortable teaching it this 

What if I were to say, "Okay we are going to learn this. Here is my idea. How many of you think you can learn ______ this way? Okay, about 45%. "Alright, for you other 55%, what are we thinking? You then allow your 55% students to work out how best to unpackage the information in a way that is meaningful to the individual. 

Big Finish...okay, not really.

This thinking takes practice. You will fail in delivering this type of instruction. Get ready. But if you allow you students the freedom to learn in a way that is meaningful to the individual, you cannot contain the result. Try it. See what happens. 

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

1 comment:

  1. Student voice and choices are two things I'm really going to try to focus on more this year. I think too often we try to put student learning into a box and only see the outcome or product as one thing. We should be giving the students more choices to open up the possibilities of showing us their learning in a variety of ways.