#zerotohero What Might Have Value?

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Our challenge, Day 12,  for the #zerotohero WordPress blogging challenge is to carry forward the conversation from one of the three blogs for which we commented on yesterday.

Pause…

In The Learning Pond by Grant Lichtman, Grant asks:

“Innovation is the process of enhancing the value of an organization.  In schools, if we believe that what customers will value in the future is the same as in the past, we run a real risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant as educators. How do we gauge what might have value?”

The rest of the article explains some truths about schools — inward thinking, bound to historical models, and in need of listening to families and students. He grounds the solutions in the work of  Stephen Wunker, who works in new market creation [See Forbes ], suggests ways to assess future value. Be sure to read the post for Grant Lichtman’s application to education.

As I read these statements:

Innovation is the process of enhancing the value of an organization.

How do we gauge what might have value?

I considered the past twenty-seven years of my teaching and the many teachers I have known. Those days are gone. What days? Days of respecting the professional decisions of teachers to help students learn, helping them in many ways through as much feedback and practice projects as needed for them to grow in spurts as each is ready to learn. Students engaged in art and music, often integrated in reading, writing, and social studies projects. School could enhance the talents of each student this way, and the projects helped each student learn or practice the needed skills. We didn’t focus on the skills; we focused on the students and added to the projects in different ways for different kids. Teachers spent hours finding – innovating – just the right lesson or activity that would help a kid build his or her skills as they completed the work. There was a wholeness about the process, a compassionate  community of learners with the teacher as guide. A social studies unit becomes a skit, a poster, a speech that synthesizes the essence of the topic. A science topic led to jars and boxes in back of the room or on the window sill to apply and try the learning from the book. Both of these include reading and writing, and many included math. If a kid didn’t learn through the one way, he might learn from his neighbors, or the next project. There were goals, joy, feedback, and continued support in a learning community that respected the wholeness of us as people. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ ASCD ] promotes a Whole Child Initiative – be sure to read about it, and I hope you support it.

Today, schools teach in skills by mandates in often scripted curriculum with specific posted objectives to force students to practice the skills in hopes they will pass standardized tests that supposedly test those skills. But kids are funny and learn in different times and ways, and they want to learn more than just those skills. They want authentic learning— learning like John Dewey espoused a century ago, learning that reflects the world in which they live.

So I think Grant Lichtman is correct — schools today are bound to history – a factory model. And schools today are inward looking — and top down — purchasing more and more skills-based programs without realistic connections to students’ lives, especially in schools deemed “poor performing.” Those schools receive more skills instruction and less art, music, and real reading for their own purposes. In addition, the students are speaking out about their need to create and connect as they do in their real lives. However, schools have no funding for the infrastructure or technology to update to this type of access and learning, nor do teachers have the time to learn or try a curriculum with technology tied more closely to students’ learning ideas. Technology alone doesn’t change the direction of education — it will take the teachers again, focusing on what students need — in a more authentic, whole way.

Play…

So, “How do we gauge what might have value?”

What do you think? Do you think we might need to step back and allow teachers to plan for the students in the classrooms, instead of planning for the objectives for a test? Do you think we might bring back projects with art and music with reading and writing and help students develop their thinking, their talents, and their own ways of demonstrating learning? Even without technology, these creative and authentic projects focus students’ critical thinking and motivation in learning. And that would be the value to which we would gauge innovation and success.

Dan Pink explains that people are motivated by autonomy, purpose, and mastery. In the past before the emphasis on standardized tests, teachers had the purpose of guiding students’ learning and the autonomy to make it happen using their mastery of curriculum and instruction. And teachers hooked students on the purpose with projects, providing a level of autonomy through choices so students could master the skills needed with support in various activities.

Somehow, we’ve lost that by expecting the impossible: that all children will learn the same things at the same time — in order to pass a test and receive a score that says they have “met” or “not met” the standards. Hmmm. Autonomy? Purpose? Mastery?

Think about your best experience in school. Do you remember when you inferred the main character knew her enemy was nearby? Or do you remember creating something, debating something, doing something?

Let’s step back and see this big picture of learning and what might have value. But you’ll need to step into each classroom to know it’s truth.

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