Thursday, March 16, 2017

What are we?

Duck or bunny?

Or both?

Can you see both a duck and a bunny?

This optical illusion has me thinking about schools.

Should schools individualize? Or is teacher-led instruction the most effective? Or is it a combination of individualization and teacher-led activity during each school day?

Should schools teach affective or non-academics skills? Skills in leadership, collaboration, communication? Or should schools just focus on academic subjects?

Should schools embrace technology? What would "embracing technology" look like? A computer in a student's hand every minute of every day? Or is technology a tool and schools should ensure access when needed? If technology is to be used when needed, how does a school help students learn to discern when technology is an appropriate tool?

Should schools do away with grade levels and age-based instruction? Or do grade levels and age-based instruction have a place? And if they do what is that place?

Should schools sort and rank students with grades? Or should schools do away with grades and focus on ensuring students can meet certain standards? Or are standards too restrictive and schools should instead focus on competencies that every student should master?

There are plenty of questions about schools. And almost everyone has an opinion. Where one person sees that schools should do "X", another person sees that schools should do "Y" and still another person sees that schools should do "Z."

Schools cannot do everything.

Schools cannot be everything.

While I do not know the perfect answer to what schools should be, I do know that schools should be important in helping our students learn to think.

Alvin Toffler once said:
The question is how do we help our students develop the skills needed to be successful in the complex world that we now find ourselves trying to navigate.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The high cost of not changing

There is evidence that doctors prescribe and patients demand practices and procedures that do little good and may even do harm. An article from February 22, 2017, in The Atlantic states rather ominously:

it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous.

And wait there's more! The article goes on to say:

. . . medicine is quick to adopt practices based on shaky evidence but slow to drop them once they’ve been blown up by solid proof.

Oh my!

How does this relate to schools and classrooms and students and teachers - things that I care deeply about?

There are many threads to this story.

Learning is a complex. Learning is difficult. Helping someone learn to read or understand linear equations or explain supply and demand or describe how temperature, pressure, activation energy, and concentration affect the rate of a chemical reaction is not easy. To do this successfully requires not only a person who understands the subject but also understands how six- and nine- and thirteen- and seventeen-year-olds think and reason and understand.

It is hard work!

And the teachers I see every day willingly engage in the tasks that are required to understand their subject and their students. They engage in this work because they want to, because they know it is important, because it makes a difference.

I believe that doctors know their work is important. I believe that doctors engage in their work because they know it makes a difference. But, as the article in The Atlantic makes clear, some doctors

. . . continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable—or even because they’re popular and patients demand them.

Teachers don't have a profit margin that they worry about. Teachers don't resist change because changing would affect their bottom line.

However, teachers can and do face pressure not to change because their current practice is popular. Sometimes current instructional strategies are fun. But as teachers evaluate their current practice they may identify more effective strategies. Leaving behind a cherished practice is hard. But teachers do it all the time.

Engaging students today requires incredible insight. Making learning relevant requires teachers who understand that what worked yesterday may not work today. Today's students are different from yesterday's students. Engaging these students requires new strategies, new insights, new approaches.

I appreciate the willingness of the teachers that I know to continue to find instructional strategies that work.

Change is hard.But not changing is harder!