3 Ideas That Will Not Transform Schools

In the spirit of “Festivus” and the tradition of “The Airing of Grievances” (sorry for the reference if you are not a Seinfeld fan), I wanted to share a couple of ideas that I think get way too much attention and definitely need some tweaking.  Although there is merit for each idea, they do little to transform the culture of a school yet I have seen many jump on their individual bandwagons.  Just because the object is shiny, doesn’t mean it is useful. As educators we need to be thoughtful of what we implement in our schools.  Innovation should not just be “new”, but it should also be “better”.

Also, instead of simply saying what I don’t like about each idea, I would also like to offer some alternative ideas and thoughts to consider.

1.  Flipping the Classroom – In short, flipping the classroom (in my words), would be having students watch a video at home and discussing the work during class time.  The idea of having students spend more time working in the classroom and connecting with the teacher, and having the content shared during a time where they can pause and watch the content at their own speed (I know that advocates would say there is a lot more to this concept than what I have explained, but I am only try to provide a short summary).  You are now starting to see many administrators “flip” their faculty meeting and have their staff review content on their own time, and discuss in a group.

This one drives me nuts on so many levels.  First of all, I have heard many educators complain about the “Khan Academy”, while also saying that “flipping” the classroom is the future of schools.  The other reason that it really bothers me, is the focus on students/staff going home and spending time reviewing content at home. What if a student was taking four courses in high school, and all teachers to decide to “flip” their classroom?  You know what is important to a kid? Being a kid. Spending time with family and friends, playing sports, and pursuing other extra-curricular activities.  We should really give kids time to just enjoy their lives and not inundate them with homework.

Although many would say it is transformative, Shelly Wright, a teacher who actually tried the “flip”, talked about a much more meaningful experience for kids:

As I shifted my classroom from teacher-centred to student-centred, my students began to do lots of their their own research. Sometimes this resulted in them teaching each other. Sometimes they created a project with the knowledge they were acquiring. But the bottom line was that their learning had a purpose that was apparent to them, beyond simply passing the unit exam.

What was my role? I helped them learn to learn. I prompted them to reflect on their thinking and learning, while at the same time I shared my own journey as a learner. I helped them develop skills such as using research tools, finding and evaluating sources, and collaborating with their peers. My goal as a teacher shifted from information-giver and gatekeeper to someone who was determined to work myself out of a job by the time my students graduated.

Alternative – If we really want to talk about “flipping” the classroom, students should, as Shelley suggested, be creators of content, not simply consumers.  The flip should happen that classrooms are learner focused, not teacher focused.  Although I am sure that the “flip” has its place, it is not something that will transform education, nor should it.

2. BYOD – The idea of “Bring Your Own Device” has been floating around for awhile as a low cost alternative to get technology in the hands of students (which is something we definitely want), yet I have not seen an article talking about the impact that BYOD has has on the transformation of a school.  Classrooms for sure, but not a school as a whole.  Gary Stager talks about all of the bad things that this idea entails, and he warns us of what this could mean to school budgets later:

We reap what we sow, educators who placate those who slash budgets by making unreasonable compromises at the expense of children, will find ever fewer resources during the next funding cycle. Education must not be viewed as some competitive, commercial, “every man for himself” enterprise that relies on children to find loose change behind the sofa cushions. Democracy and a high quality educational system requires adequate funding.

The other element that Gary talks about in his post regards that we should actually still encourage students to bring devices into the classroom but, we should also be thinking of a standard device that all students can use as well.  Think about the implications of BYOD for staff professional development?  How do you prepare a faculty for the “mystery items” that are about to appear in their classroom?  There is already a divide in schools with the educators that are comfortable/uncomfortable with technology, and this idea will only widen that gap.

Alternative – Ryan Bretag shares the idea of “Combine Our Devices”, where students would have the opportunity to bring in devices, but also be ensured that there is a consistent device in the classroom.  This would be beneficial to students, staff, and the school community as a whole, as there is some consistency in what is provided and prepared for, with the option of also bringing in the device that best suits the need of each individual learner.  Honestly, it is hard for me to believe that with a $249 Chromebook available, that schools can not make this happen within a year (proper WiFi must be implemented along with other elements to school infrastructure).

3. How we use student surveys – I want to make this really clear that I really value student voice in helping shape education and I do not want that misinterpreted.  That being said, I think the way that we do student surveys to transform education is way off the mark and seemingly lip-service to the public.  First of all, I have seen many surveys that ask kids what they want, with little action after the results. If students say “we need devices in our hands”, how many schools have went out and made that happen because of those surveys?

Secondly, when we bring in “student groups”, are we truly bringing in a cross section of students?  A lot of times we pull in the “cream of the crop” kids that have already mastered school and we ask them “how does school need to change?”  The thing with many of those kids is that they don’t want school to change because they already like it while already mastering the system.  We should be asking the kids who hate school and don’t do well academically as well.

Finally, ask a lot of kids about what they want and they will say they want devices in the classroom, and to be able to use Facebook, Twitter, or be able to text others.  Then ask them why they want that stuff.  They will usually say something along the lines of “so we can look up stuff”.  A few can go beyond that, but my gut often tells me that they want those devices in the classroom not because of the transformative nature that they see it can have, but because they are bored.  Think about it…when you were a kid, did you go home and look at the possibilities of what education could be or did you do “kid stuff”?  When I was a kid, I would have begged for a TV in class, so I could watch stuff, not because I thought it would improve my learning.

Alternative:  Instead of simply asking kids big, general questions, why not show them some possibilities of what school could look like and what school is now.  As educators, we have to dig deeper into what can be and try to show kids a preferred reality and get their feedback on what they think of it, how to tweak it, and how it will suit them.  If a kid says we should have Facebook in class, do you think a reluctant teacher is going to start implementing that the next day?  If we can show a student what we can do with technology and how it can improve your learning, and then ask them for feedback on that idea, you are more likely to have both staff and students excited about the future of their classroom.  People weren’t demanding an iPhone before it existed, but when it came out, feedback certainly helped to shape future generations of the device.

I once heard a quote with the notion that, “if you want to shape your future, you need to create it.”  Students are extremely important in helping us create this future, but we need to think of how we are involving all of them, while also determining what questions to ask, and how to ask them.

I really believe that the three things that I have listed have some merit in classrooms, but without some tweaking, they will not transform school culture.  They definitely need some tweaking, rethinking, and reconstruction, but Alvin Tofler talks about this as an essential skill that learners must have:


2 Comments

  1. […] In the spirit of “Festivus” and the tradition of “The Airing of Grievances” (sorry for the reference if you are not a Seinfeld fan), I wanted to share a couple of ideas that I think get way too much attention and definitely need some tweaking. Although there is merit for each idea, they do little to transform the culture of a school yet I have seen many jump on their individual bandwagons. Just because the object is shiny, doesn’t mean it is useful. As educators we need to be thoughtful of what we implement in our schools. Innovation should not just be “new”, but it should also be “better”.Also, instead of simply saying what I don’t like about each idea, I would also like to offer some alternative ideas and thoughts to consider.  […]

    January 6, 2013
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