Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 9. The Focus of Education

This post is part nine in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.

#8- We Can Transform the Focus of Education from Product to Process


The other day a friend shared this TEDx Talk with me:




I am especially drawn to this discussion because it raises an essential question about education that we seem to have no problem identifying and all kinds of trouble addressing: What does real learning look like?

"Don't let schooling interfere with your education." -Mark Twain

I would argue that "real learning" isn't about the end result (however you measure it), but is actually about the act of sorting through something because we want or need to. The age-old complaints that students have about not really learning anything in school don't merely represent adolescent cynicism, they represent a fundamental truth about our model of education. We are not encouraging kids to learn; we are encouraging kids to practice learning and to demonstrate that they have practiced.

I'm not sure that practicing learning is bad. We all need to develop our skills at communication, problem-solving, analysis, etc. I think the disconnect comes when we don't ever give students the time or encouragement to just learn. When we teachers lament that our kids can know all of the lyrics and biographical details of their favorite band, or the statistical minutiae of their favorite sports teams, but they can't seem to remember what a 3-point thesis is or where it belongs in an introduction, what we are identifying is precisely the dissonance between what we want to teach and what students want to learn.

By focusing on what must be learned, and by obsessing over how that learning must be demonstrated, we are missing the more important opportunity to focus on the learning process and how it develops over time. In my ideal world, students would have teachers whose purpose is to help students learn what they want to learn. Teachers would spend time analyzing student learning and providing feedback instead of spending time devising artificial learning scenarios and analyzing the products that result.

Here's another way to consider this: Imagine the times when you have learned the most from a mentor or teacher. I would wager that in most cases that learning did not involve the teacher delivering content or grading assigned work. At least in my case, my most significant learning moments involved teachers giving me critical feedback on how I approached a task or problem. The acting notes I received from my Drama teacher, the writing workshops I attended, the time I spent with my track coach analyzing how I ran all stand out to me as examples of real learning that I chose, that were focused on what I was doing and how I could do it better, and that might never have been measured summatively by the teacher.

As Will Richardson points out in the TEDx Talk below, the landscape of learning is different because learners have the power to choose their teachers based on their needs. Meanwhile, our narrow focus on defining success in school by measuring students responses to the same set of artificial tasks, makes the work we do less and less relevant to the kids we serve.



We need to refocus on the learner's needs instead of our own if we want to honor who they are and what they are capable of achieving.

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