Wow. Sometimes it is so amazing how much I can learn by casually looking at what folks are saying or sharing on Twitter. I have come into contact with so many educator/educational thinkers and their ideas by engaging in the social learning network that has grown out of blogging a little bit and and reading the ideas of others and by looking at the resources they share. My participation in this Personal Learning Network has taught me more about education in the last two years than I learned in all of the education classes I took while earning three degrees. Do not get me wrong, what I learned in those programs was important, just not as relevant to the everyday job as the words of those living it everyday (in case one of my old professors is reading). Reading about education almost always leads me into thinking about changes that need to be made. Inevitably I think about all the things we do just because we have always done them. My thinking amost always makes me question why we do things that no longer make sense, such as:
1. The agrarian school calendar. Tell me it makes sense to take two and half months off every summer. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love having that time, the teachers love having that time as do the kids. Penguins love Antarctica. That does not mean it makes sense!
2. Sitting students in rows, talking at them, having them answer questions out the book, having them copy and memorize things with no depth of understanding.
3. Why do we have students do anything that they only do in school? How many fill in the blank worksheets do you do on a daily basis (students don’t answer)? I have not had to do any fill in the bubble tests since I took the test to prove I was competent enough to hold an administrator’s license (I heard that! and let that be proof positive that not all tests are valid).
4. Make students sit in a seat so many hours before they can earn credit towards graduation. The Carnegie system was good for days gone by. When the information was scarce, only to be found in the textbook, at school, or in the library, maybe this made sense. Not today. Today it amounts to day care for a lot of students. I kid you not, I know of a student who failed a math class twice, but when given the opportunity to take the course online, at his own pace, he finished the course in eight weeks—with a good grade!
5. Teaching students in a schedule in which they go to as many as eight different classes a day, where very little if any connection is made to what they were exposed to the hour before or what they will encounter the next hour.
6. Sending kids out into the world after high school with no clue about what they want to do and very little job specific training and expect them to figure it out and not make any mistakes.
7. If you have read this far….please continue this list with your thoughts in the comments!!! Because I could go on and on, but I want to know what you think! I did not even touch on subject areas, homework, extra-curricular activities…etc….
Now let’s move on to those things we should be doing but we do not because they do not fit into the way we do things.
1. I am going to get laughed here, but follow me, if you can. When my children were younger, they used to watch a program that I loved, The Magic School Bus. I loved the program because the students got to experience what they were learning about and the teacher was not always the expert (well she was, but I digress). We need to make small learning communities where strong relationships are built between the students themselves and with the teacher. In a model where they learn in an alternative schedule, free of the Carnegie system. Where students and teachers tackle real life problems, create real life solutions and have real outputs with value. Students would still responsible for learning many of the same subjects, but would do so in depth with a level of understanding and an opportunity see how what they are doing in school relates to the world they live in.
2. Have all students involved in an apprenticeship. Where they spend time away from the “halls of education” learning from professionals in the fields of their interest while earning credit. We do this to some degree, but not to the level it needs to be. We have to quit ignoring the businesses in our communities when they say we are not producing the types of workers they need, not because we need to serve the businesses, but because we need to prepare our students for vocations and show them that they can contribute to the community by working.
3. Give teachers time develop as professionals. Professionals from all fields of work spend time preparing to do what they do. We have to realize that professional teachers cannot effectively teach in the classroom all day and also be expected to grow professionally. They, as well as principals, need to be held accountable, but they also need to be given the time and resources needed to become master teachers. I think the National Board Certification program is a great way to help teachers to become better. We need to compensate them if they achieve that certification and give them the support to do it. If a teacher does not make that effort to grow or is deficient as a teacher then we need to counsel them to find another way to make a living.
4. We must develop a set of standards that make sense. Allowing the politicians, textbook companies, and other parties that do not have a real stake in what students should be able to do other than advancing their own agenda is a mistake. Students, parents, employers, teachers, and institutions of higher learning have to sit down and determine what learners need to be able do before earning a high school diploma. Our standards now are too broad. We have too much to cover and the list grows every year. Why does the legislature get to pass law about what is covered in class anyway? We need to ask, what does the 21st Century learner need to be able to do? Is it different than what we are asking them to do now? Why?
5. Again, this list could keep going, but these are my ideas…..I want your input. Join the conversation! What should we do that would be completely different? Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this blog? How what I have learned from my personal leaning network is greater than and more valuable than anything I learned while pursuing my advance degrees? Chime in. Change is going to happen; you may as well be heard.