Sunday, November 9, 2014

How to fix education.

Education, this thing that I love and have devoted my life to, is broken. And, it's broken badly. Our students are master manipulators of information. They are not learners. They consistently ask things like:

  • Is this good enough?
  • How long does it have to be?
  • Are we done yet?
  • Do I have to do this?
They get by doing exactly the smallest amount of work that will produce a grade that their parents will accept (if they care at all).

It has to stop. We need to stop focusing on the testing. Stop focusing on the grades. Stop focusing on college and career readiness. We need to focus on learning. We need to fix education.

"Well, how do we do that, Mr. Barner?"

I've got a start:
  • Vertical articulation of  'can't' removal. 
  • Breaking the cycle of practicing what I can already do and ignoring what I can't.
  • Becoming the expert instead of finding the expert.

Vertical articulation of 'can't' removal.

I recently wrote a post called "How we teach kids to quit when it's hard". It stated that, sometime between the time kids learn to walk and their senior year, we teach them to quit when it's hard. I'm not sure how we do that. But I am certain that something we, collectively as teachers do, teach them to quit when it's hard.

I believe that if we were to systematically stop accepting the phrase, "I can't do this," we could change the world. But it has to be all of us. If one of us let's "can't" into the party, we are done. Can we begin to focus on "yet?" Can we say we will accept can't if it is in a sentence that ends with "yet?" Maybe. But I would love to hear, "I haven't done this," rather than, "I can't do this." Start the culture now. Refuse "can't."

Breaking the cycle of practicing what I can already do and ignoring what I can't.

I teach music, so my classroom is a bit different than yours, but I'm sure that you have seen something similar to this:

In seventh grade exploratory, we play the piano with two hands. Melody in right hand; harmony in left hand. This is hard. Like mega hard, and what I see is my students practicing the right hand and mastering the melody. They will then go about and try to practice the left hand, the harmony, and not be able to master the chords immediately. So, do they bear down and focus on mastering the chords? NO! They go back to the melody and play it over and over until I am living the live action version of Mary had a Little Lamb in my dreams. Soundtrack by MY STUDENTS!

Why? Why! Why do they do this? Why do you practice what you can clearly achieve and shy away from what you can't? HOW DID YOU LEARN TO WALK?!? (lots of capitol letters in this blog, aren't there?) We must teach out children to attack hard not run from it.

Becoming the expert instead of finding an expert.

How many times have your students come up to you and said:
  • I don't know how to do this.
  • I need somebody to tell me how to do this.
  • I don't know what to do.
(There was supposed to be a question mark in there some where....? Okay, there.)

They want you to tell them what to do. Why don't they try and figure it out themselves? This usually happens in a non-content way.

  • I don't know how to use iMovie.
  • I don't know how to make the Prezi add a frame.
  • The wi-fi is not working.
They deeply desire to have someone come in and fix it rather then taking the time to figure it out. I have no idea why this is. I see my children doing the same thing. My 7 year old will come to me to fix a Lego, but my 3 year old will fix it himself. Why is in that first grader asks the teacher while my preschooler fixes it himself? The amount of time they have been in school. They find out very quickly that their teacher will just do it for them if they ask. And that is the crux of the issue, we have to stop it. We need to find the key to turning the spark of curiosity into the fire of becoming the expert.

This is not the end, but the beginning of fixing education. Leave a comment stating what is our next step.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What do you think the next step is?

  3. Did you see how I did your #3 there? ;)

    If we want children to attack their learning 'hard' rather than run from it, we need to start by giving them something worthwhile to attack. Otherwise, the avoidance behaviors you describe in sections 1 and 2 are rational responses to boring learning tasks they see as irrelevant.

  4. I agree with all that you have to say. What we are teaching must matter. What if we looked at our curriculum and asked the question, "Why does it matter?" We think too much of what to teach rather than why we teach it. My first step would be to put students on notice that our focus is changing. Explain the why and hold learning to a high standard.

  5. So what's your response when they say, "Everything matters" or "I think this minutiae matters?"

  6. My response would be, "You get your list out and I'll get my list out. Then let's ask the question of how many of the things on your list benefit the students and how many benefit you." The people who say "everything matters" are those who are determined to keep teaching the exact same way they always have. The one's who are innovative realize that to make school better it has to change. Many folks what school to change but don't want it to be different.