Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 10. The Perception of School

This post is part ten 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.

#10-We Can transform the perception of school from Meaningless Work to Purposeful Fun.

I'm just going to say it. Many kids dread going to school because for the most part: 1. they see the work that they do for school as having no value to them as learners, and 2. they aren't having any fun. Frankly, I don't blame them.

In order for work to have value to a learner, the learner needs to feel in their bones a sense of curiosity and wonder. Learning has meaning when I want to know something, and I want to know something when I have a real purpose for knowing it or when it has captured my imagination by speaking to who I am.

First off, A real purpose for learning is not because I will need to know it to pass a test or to get into college or even to be regarded as smart or "well-rounded." I hate that we give kids formulas for success in the form of checklists of things to do/master in order to make them meet someone else's definition of well-informed, minimally competent or prepared for college. Our impulse towards standardizing learning for the sake of further learning is destructive and systemically reinforced. I know that I share these regularly, but if you haven't already, take a look at these videos from Sir Ken Robinson:

A real purpose for learning is when knowing something is essential to completing the work that I want to do. Fortunately, in our current culture of information abundance, I can quickly access any type of learning that I need through a wealth of social platforms that democratize learning and bring it to the level of personal collaboration. Anyone can learn on their own via wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, and thousands of other sources what they need to know, when they need to know it, inside or outside of school. Will Richardson makes this case eloquently in his TEDxNYED talk.

The reality is that our education system is changing. As Professor Stephen Heppell puts it, "We are facing the end of education, but the beginning of learning." If we want to continue to be relevant, we need to make ourselves relevant, rather than expecting that our students must accept that we are relevant. To do that, we must demonstrate our relevance by giving students purposeful things to do with their brains that have immediate and satisfying applications and that appeal to each child's personal sense of wonder and interest.

In the classroom, this means giving students the opportunity to learn about what interests them, through the means that interests them, and to a purpose that is important to them. It means giving kids voice in their learning, supporting authentic learning tasks that kids help to design, building relationships with kids that allow us to better understand how to ignite their curiosity, and creating a culture of learning that actively refuses to place the same expectations on all learners and that recognizes learning as a non-linear process of discovery rather than a linear process of mastery.

Doing all of this would go a long way toward helping kids see school as meaningful and worthwhile. Motivation and engagement would certainly improve based on Daniel Pink's ideas in Drive. But I contend that there is something else that we must do. We must have the courage to reject the narrative about education that we've inherited from the Industrial Revolution and that is reinforced by public leaders, education reformers and No Child Left Behind. We must turn instead to what we intuitively know about learning: When we are really learning, we are having fun. The joy of true learning is impossible to hide. It shows up on our faces, through our body language, and in the excellence of our learning products. Angela Maiers' Sandbox Manifesto articulates this so well.

My own thinking in this area has been developed over the last 3 years and is reflected through this blog. I recently presented one aspect of this learning at FETC. Here is my presentation:

The best part of this mission is that this kind of learning invites us to play on the playground of our own learning in order for us to make this a reality for our students. We have the opportunity to learn better ways for schools to operate that enhance every person's innate ability to learn and achieve excellence. We have the opportunity to shift our perceptions of school from meaningless work to purposeful fun.

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