I’ve often spoken and written about how factory-model, time-based schools keep bright students from moving ahead. We bore these students, they often find other “games” to play (which may not be constructive and helpful), and we waste their potential. We let them down, and we lose them. I’d seen it and experienced it, but hadn’t read or studied much about it in depth.
I recently found that there is a lot of information to support my observations, and my brief review gave me even more cause for concern. It is clear to me that factory-model schools stifle creativity and genius, and limit humanity’s search for solutions to the problems which plague us. I found (but had not yet read) a book Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds. The book’s site tells it all:
“With all the talk of failing schools these days, we forget that schools can fail their brightest students, too. We pledge to ‘leave no child behind,’ but in American schools today, thousands of gifted and talented students fall short of their potential.”
Authors Jan and Bob Davidson (creators of Davidson & Associates, the educational software company) founded the Davidson Institute for Talent Development to assist gifted children and schools. From the book excerpts and summary, I can tell that they tell a great story.
They “describe the ‘quiet crisis’ in education: gifted students spending their days in classrooms learning little beyond how to cope with boredom as they ‘relearn’ material they’ve already mastered years before. This lack of challenge leads to frustration, underachievement, and even failure… At a time when our country needs a deep intellectual talent pool, the squandering of these bright young minds is a national tragedy.”
I didn’t know the numbers - in the US alone, there are hundreds of thousands of highly gifted children - and millions more of above-average intelligence. At the site you can read excerpted stories of genius and in some cases, how their needs were finally met, and how society benefits when these geniuses help us solve the tough problems. It also helps to know that gifted students are often misdiagnosed as having the mythical ADD because they are being forced to “learn” things they already know, or get in a flash. One story told of a girl who could read and fully understand a literature book in one night that the class was reading paragraph by paragraph for weeks on end. Cruel treatment of our best and brightest. The bottom line - proficiency-based education benefits all students. Geniuses can move at their own pace as well as other students who need more time in some subjects and less in others.
I found a great quote about teaching gifted students: “Teaching those types of voracious minds in a regular classroom without enhancement is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time. You'll starve them.” (Elizabeth Meckstroth)
What would the world be like if we let all students reach their full potential - including our young geniuses? Would major illnesses be eradicated, hunger cured, and poverty and the energy crisis things of the past? We’ll never know until we leave the factory-model behind, along with the many other outdated technologies and ways of thinking.
on Monday August 3 at 09:15AM
I recently blogged about the “go to a good college” myth and a Gallup poll that showed that where a student was educated “hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being”, and it outlined the two vital elements of a college program that do matter and which now define a “good college”.
As the study makes clear, there is a reality gap between colleges and businesses. Most colleges think they are doing well in preparing their students and most employers think colleges don’t do well.
In its Feb. 25, 2014 issue US News and World Reports took up an aspect of the same Gallup poll in an article “Education Leaders: Time to Rethink What a College Degree Promises” with the intro “Colleges and businesses need to work together to fill the gap between hiring expectations and realities, new data suggest.”
While 96 percent of chief college academic officers think they are doing a good job of preparing graduates for success in the workplace, “just 11 percent of business leaders surveyed” agreed, and “most business leaders are unsatisfied with the pool of applicants.”
I hear this same message from the business community, because I am actively involved with many businesses leaders locally as well as during my 10-day Business Seminar Field Trips to the East and West coasts. The article says:
“The disconnect may come from the fact that colleges and universities are not transparent enough about what exactly they're preparing students for, while the public has not articulated clearly what higher education could do differently, said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark..”
“But neither the academic leaders nor the business leaders were right about the job colleges are doing in preparing students for the workforce, she said. ‘This is not about higher education doing it by itself, nor is it about the public being able to stand back and say, “What are you providing?"’ Cantor said. ‘It's really … about collaboration.’"
This problem is not abstract. Many colleges are not preparing the students for the jobs or expectations of the world of business. But colleges and businesses have different goals and expectations, and apparently they aren’t talking to each other.
“Steve Odland, chief executive officer of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Committee for Economic Development, said...institutions of higher education and businesses often have very different missions. Odland has served as the CEO of several large companies, and also worked as an adjunct professor in the business graduate schools at Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University.
"’In academia, I think the objectives that we had were to teach people to think,’ Odland said. ‘And I think in the business world, our objectives were to find people who had the skill sets that were requisite for the job position that we needed.’"
“Odland said the even larger disparity between expectations and realities was apparent among entry-level applicants, who often lacked necessary and basic business skills...
"’We were having to retrain all the students fresh from undergraduate programs in how to make presentation skills, how to write for a business, sometimes how to dress and interact with customers,’ Odland said. ‘Once you're looking for somebody with 10 or more years of experience … it didn't matter. They could have had an online degree, they could have had no degree. We hired executives with no college degree, but [who] had the requisite business skills and experience, and that was more important.’"
The bad news is that college graduates are often lacking basic business, organizational and communication skills and thus the ability to do well in the workplace. Most importantly, all students need to know that the world of business has standards and timetables that must be met. There are no excuses.
The good news is that at the Delphian School students learn many of these skills as part of our basic high school program which includes lots of project-based learning, work experience, apprenticeship and leadership opportunities. Also, I cover many basic business skills in my business seminars; alumni feedback tells me that what students learn in my seminars helps them every day on the job. I’m able to pass on the skills and standards that are expected in the workplace, from “If you’re on time, you’re late”, to how to shake hands, have good manners, and how to write a business letter! Our alums weigh in at our annual Alumni Seminars, sharing the list of skills they found vital to business survival.
The US News article goes on:
“Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation, said the large gaps shown in the data should serve as a wake-up call to the country's higher education system that ‘we are either not doing a very good job of articulating what we are doing … or what we are producing is not nearly good enough to meet their needs, or some combination of the two.’"
Isn’t this is a little late for us to notice the gap? It isn’t as though business leaders can’t talk to higher ed leaders.
"’To me, it really cries out for the need to increase the learning outcome-based focus of what we're doing in higher education,’ Merisotis said. ‘We've got to really articulate how we produce people who are prepared for good jobs, and how they ultimately do have a better life as a result of their attendance at our higher education institutions.’"
Higher ed has lost its focus on its learning outcomes, on what it is producing. What? Students are going into huge debt attending institutions of higher education that have drifted away from their focus on student learning outcomes and failed to provide graduates with useful employment skills, much less entrepreneurial skills. These institutions are supposed to be filled with our best and brightest faculty. We give them our best and brightest students. We have high expectations which aren’t being met.
Final Note: A February 25 article by Calderon and Sidhu at the Gallup site talks about another Gallup study, “Business Leaders Say Knowledge Trumps College Pedigree.”
“When hiring, U.S. business leaders say the amount of knowledge the candidate has in a field, as well as applied skills, are more important factors than where a candidate attended school or what their college major was…
“Business leaders say that the managers responsible for making hiring decisions are far less concerned with where job candidates earn their degrees, or even the type of degree itself, than they are with what knowledge and skills a candidate brings to the table. This corresponds with recent insights into how large, high-tech corporations like Google conduct their hiring. At Google, hiring managers say certain types of skills and talents are what matter most, more than a particular type of college degree or even having a college degree at all.”
Note to students - do your due diligence (very thorough research). Find out exactly what the college you plan to attend actually delivers. Find out where its graduates go and what they do after graduation. Find out what they can actually do. Find out if you will have knowledge in the field where you plan to work, and if you will have the necessary skills and abilities as well. Avoid end-of-college sticker shock & no-job shock.
We need you to do well in college, because we are counting on you to solve the world’s problems! Is that too much to ask?
Mr. Mark Siegel
on Thursday July 30 at 01:49PM
Here at the Delphian School, our task is simple: We Make Graduates!
The Delphian School was designed for all students to cross the finish line! We think all education programs should be designed so that all students can succeed. Competition has no place in academia - unless we are competing against ignorance. Keep the competition on the playing field or the chess tournament - not in the math or history class. What a concept.
Design a school where all students can get everything the school has to offer and leave the school competent and able! A school where students cooperate and help each other get it all! Imagine a school’s focus on helping students succeed - not putting them through a system of ringing-bells and letter-grade bell curves, a system of winners and losers!
Making graduates! Helping students succeed! Helping students graduate! Wow!
This is an important concept to think about. This is a "new school" concept. ("Old school" is the factory-model, lecture-method, letter-grade and age-based, grade-level model, where if a student shows up enough, stays out of trouble and doesn’t flunk too much, he gets a diploma). At Delphian, just showing up won’t make you a graduate! Just putting in the time won’t make you a graduate! It takes work, effort and intention to master the graduation requirements fully and completely. You have to learn things, and demonstrate that learning - regardless of which path you took or the length you were on the path!
Although the Delphian School is the oldest proficiency-based private school, there are now many other “new schools”, where learning is the constant and time is the variable, and where everyone (students, faculty and parents) works hard to make graduates! Delphian students don’t graduate because they’ve put in their time (sounds like prison?) by attending classes. They move ahead by demonstrating mastery of each step.
What is unique at Delphian and other proficiency-based schools is that we all work hard to ensure that each and every student meets all of our graduation requirements. The requirements are stated in terms of skills, abilities and knowledge, not classes completed or seats warmed. We all work hard to make graduates who can use what they have learned.
But schools like ours are the exception. I wanted to be sure I knew how high school graduation works in most high schools today. My research confirmed that high school students in the United States need to earn a certain number of credits in required and elective classes, earned primarily by showing up (seat time). The problem is that students can pass any class and earn credit toward graduation by receiving as low as a D or D- letter grade (D = barely passing and F = fail). I found that some schools require a C grade point average (so they can’t graduate with all D’s), and others also require some minimum passing score on a state test they can take and retake until they pass. (Don’t think I will let the topic of letter grades slip by; stay tuned for more blogs on the folly, stupidity and insanity of academic letter grades.. Sorry, but they are nutty and meaningless!)
The tragedy is that some high school students in the United States can graduate by doing little more than attending school and earning seat-time credit. What is worse is not graduating at all!. According to the “2015 Building a Grad Nation” report, the national high school graduation rate hit a record high of 81.4 percent.” The Alliance for Excellent Education says that “..every year, approximately 1 million students—more than 5,500 every school day—don’t graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, about a quarter of students fail to obtain high school diplomas. Among key indicators, low reading scores and a lack of proficiency in math and English, are major predictors of dropout.”
The truth is that the game for some students is to show up and do only what they have to do to “earn” D’s so they can graduate. There are many schools working hard to change this, especially schools switching to proficiency-based or competency-based programs. But most US high schools are factory-model “old schools”. These schools are failing the students and robbing them of their potential.
Every Delphian student and parent knows that graduation is not automatic or time-based. Graduation is achieved by hard work on all graduation requirements which set high standards in all areas. (If you are interested, you can download our graduation requirements from our website by clicking here.)
I am excited about the topic of “making graduates” because it captures the distinction between proficiency-based schools like Delphian and factory-model, time-based schools. It captures the fact that every faculty and staff member’s focus is to make graduates by helping each student achieve all of the high level of skill and ability required for graduation. That’s what I’ve been doing for 41 years, and I like being able to state it so clearly.
At Delphian, we make graduates!
on Monday July 27 at 03:17PM
Many students and families believe that where you go to college matters and the type of college you go to matters and affects success in life. It is easy to understand that belief. It seems reasonable. But it’s wrong. Belief has to be based on facts; reliable research tells a different story.
Last September in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman discussed a Gallup Poll about the relationship between a college education and success in the workplace. The poll tried to determine what things in college produced successful employees “on a fulfilling career track”. If you had to guess what those things were, you’d probably be wrong. I was!
“According to Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup’s education division, two things stand out. Successful students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.
“‘We think it’s a big deal’ where we go to college, Busteed explained to me. ‘But we found no difference in terms of type of institution you went to — public, private, selective or not — in long-term outcomes. How you got your college education mattered most.’”
Wow! How you got your education mattered most, not where! Public college, private college, selective college - it didn’t matter! Whatever college was attended, the two essential elements of success were:
mentors - one or more teachers were mentors
internships - internships related to their studies.
You can read the study yourself; it said that where one was educated “hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being.”
“Only 22 percent of college grads surveyed said they had such a mentor and 29 percent had an internship where they applied what they were learning.” This was a huge poll; Gallup “collected the voices of close to one million Americans in the past year alone.” Gallup and Friedman are both concerned because most college students are not getting the two things that lead to success.
Part of the problem is that colleges think they are preparing students well. “And then when you ask business leaders whether they’re getting enough college grads with the skills they need, ‘only 11 percent strongly agree.’ Concluded Busteed: ‘This is not just a skills gap. It is an understanding gap.””
Busteed wrote a related article in which he found that “...no matter who you ask -- from parents to college students to the general population -- everyone agrees that the No. 1 reason to go to college is ‘to get a good job.’” He argues:
“Nothing will fix our economy more fundamentally than new business creation. And we won't get the new great American economic engine humming again until we build strong linkages among educators, employers, and entrepreneurs. Right now, we're more likely to see kids with entrepreneurial talent diagnosed as underperforming troublemakers than we are to recognize them as the next Mark Zuckerberg.
“...Perhaps the most important education-related news story of the entire year was Google -- the world's most admired brand -- announcing that it found almost no correlation between the grades and test scores of its employees and their success on the job.”
I agree with his advice on how to fix all of this:
“...Employers of all shapes and sizes can make it a core mission to offer paid and unpaid internships to high school and college students. They can also offer externships for teachers and faculty, many of whom have never been in a work environment outside schools and academia. Education leaders of all kinds must recognize that their job is to foster teacher and faculty engagement, not just student engagement. Engaged teachers and faculty in turn engage students. Educators everywhere must look for ways to align their curriculum with long-term projects that apply the classroom to real problems.”
The Delphian School emphasizes project-based learning, internships and apprenticeships; it has great student-teacher mentorships. We do what many colleges don’t. But colleges and schools like ours are the exception, not the rule.
The main takeaway for my students and their families, and anyone else who will listen, is to choose a college, not for the big name or high ranking, but to choose a college that has many teachers who are actually mentoring students AND that has lots of career internships. Sorry if that changes your plans!
on Monday July 20 at 09:40AM
Sir Kenneth Robinson’s new book is Creative Schools - The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. Robinson is brilliant, and this is a “must read”. I’m not done with it yet because every time I pick it up and read it, my mind explodes (in a good way) and I have to think about what he’s said. Then I pick up the book a few days later and the same thing happens. I also listen to his talks and interviews which are equally stimulating. I recommend them all. He is an excellent communicator, he is logical and persuasive, and he is fun to listen to. I particularly want to share excerpts from the book’s introduction that really help orient us to what we have done right in education and what we need to do to improve and transform it.
He writes, “When you look at what goes on in many schools, when you listen to what many parents expect of and for their children, when you consider what so many policymakers around the world are actually doing, it seems that they really believe that the current systems of education are basically sound; they’re just not working as well as they should because standards have fallen….This story is a dangerous myth."
We’ve seen this myth perpetuated in reforms that just try to teach reading better, math better, science better - but still in a system that was not designed to educate all children fully and completely. We’ve seen this myth perpetuated in all kinds of funding requests - more money for teachers, more money for facilities, more money for ……!
In 2005 Bill Gates spoke at the National Education Summit on High Schools. He acknowledged the good things our schools have done. “Let’s be clear. Thanks to dedicated teachers and principals around the country, the best-educated kids in the United States are the best-educated kids in the world. We should be proud of that.”
He follows that with a caveat: “But only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education.”
“America’s high schools are obsolete.
“By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.
“By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.
“Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times.
“Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.
“Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.
“The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job – no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.
“This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system….”
Gates and Robinson are in sync. Robinson notes that our current systems were developed “in large part to meet the labor needs of the Industrial Revolution and they are organized on the principles of mass production.
“The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.”
Robinson also notes the good that our schools have done. “Don’t mistake me. I’m not suggesting that all schools are terrible or that the whole system is a mess. Of course not. Public education has benefited millions of people in all sorts of ways, including me. I could not have had the life I’ve had but for the free public education I received in England. Growing up in a large working-class family in 1950’s Liverpool, my life could have gone in a completely different direction. Education opened my mind to the world around me and gave me the foundations on which I’ve created my life.
“For countless others, public education has been the path to personal fulfillment or the route out of poverty and disadvantage. Numerous people have succeeded in the system and done well by it. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. But far too many have not benefited as they should have from the long years of public education. The success of those who do well in the system comes at a high price for the many who do not... Too often, those who are succeeding are doing so in spite of the dominant culture of education, not because of it.
“The great irony in the current malaise in education is that we actually know what works. We just don’t do it on a wide enough scale...We now have unlimited opportunities to engage young people’s imaginations and to provide forms of teaching and learning that are highly customized to them.”
Our schools are obsolete. The solution is to change the operating system to a personalized, customized approach - call it “proficiency”, or “competency” or “mastery”. It requires a shift from the factory model where time was the constant and learning was the variable. Learning must be the constant and time must be the variable.
Gates and Robinson both know that the system is mythical and obsolete. Robinson is right. “We now have unlimited opportunities to engage young people’s imaginations and to provide forms of teaching and learning that are highly customized to them.” Gates knows better than anyone that technology can help in that personalization and customization.
Let’s just acknowledge that the traditional system doesn’t work, and that we do know what works. I quoted Jaime Robles from the Lindsay School District in a recent blog, and it bears repeating. “We recognize it’s not the only way to do it, however we believe performance-based education is the right thing to do.” Let’s do the right thing for all of our children...and for our future.
on Thursday July 16 at 09:51AM
One of the many groups working on proficiency-based education is the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL, inacol.org). They support “competency education”, and explain that “competencies are defined by explicit learning objectives that empower students. Students receive timely, differentiated support, and they advance by demonstrating evidence with meaningful assessments via mastery, not seat time.”
iNACOL supports Personalized Education - which “opens student pathways, optimizes instruction, and encourages student voice and choice in their education. Data-rich personal learning plans inform student-centered instruction and progression upon mastery.”
iNACOL is the lead organization of CompetencyWorks (competencyworks.org). “CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system….CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.”
I outlined this because I want to share lots of news from this group and I wanted everyone to know where this was all coming from. They have many great articles, and I want to start with one that gives more insight into why academic letter grades should get an F (smile).
Article author Bill Zima is the principal of Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. He wrote Learners Rule: Giving them a voice improves the culture of their classroom. On January 8, 2015 he wrote “Navigators of Learning” and you should read the entire article. Here are some key points that I really like.
“Giving students a letter grade is not a strategy for improvement. It is as helpful as a coach telling a team they lost without reflecting on why the loss occurred. Athletes know the goal of the game is to win, and reminding them of this is not a strategy.”
His article has many sports analogies and examples, because teachers need to follow successful coaches who use information about team performance to develop strategies on how to improve weak areas. “Teachers need to do the same. We cannot simply give students a final grade when they are not even sure what strategies they can use to improve – or worse, aren’t even clear on what they are trying to improve. A well-crafted progression of competencies can give the teacher and the student the guidebook needed to create successful strategies for continuous improvement.” Not news to those familiar with the Delphian School program.
Zima says that educators, “need to make the learning visible so students can see their growth. We need to give students clear targets based on where they are starting and provide feedback on how they are doing at meeting those targets.” Again, Delphian has been doing this for 40 years.
At Zima’s school they use the Applied Learning Model. “We want students to apply the knowledge – not simply be assessed for it.” They begin with an activity that illuminates “the gap between what the student knows and what the student needs to know to make sense of what they just saw.” Then they “introduce the learning targets for the unit and the driving question that needs to be answered in the final product.”
Because teachers are “navigators of learning”, their “role isn’t to march students to their destinations, but to provide the feedback they need to get there themselves... Nothing works for all students. But if we know where we need to get them, it makes it easier to guide them when they are ready. Clear targets that are offered in a well-crafted progression, embedded in engaging units to capture their attention, and designed so we can assess, gather evidence, and provide strategic steps for improvement are key in avoiding the pitfall of students being unclear as to why they are in school.”
At Delphian, all of our students know why they are here and what they are doing. It is wonderful seeing others addressing this problem. Wouldn’t it be great If all students knew why they were in school...and that they were navigators of their education and their destiny?
on Monday July 13 at 10:24AM
I stopped blogging for a while but there is so much good news to share I am starting up again.
The past school year found me speaking about proficiency-based teaching and learning at private school conferences in Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, DC and Texas. The topic was very popular and folks were no longer questioning the basic theory or workability. This year's discussions focused on the practicality of getting colleges and employers to accept proficiency-based transcripts and getting parents to understand and accept this new approach.
The good news is that there are so many good answers and I want to share them all. In April I attended the Northwest Proficiency Conference with the theme “Leadership Grit: Making Tough Decisions for Student Learning”. It was fantastic! I loved every minute of the conference, and learned how many educators are making proficiency education a reality.
I realized two things. One, Proficiency/Competency/Mastery Teaching and Learning is THE workable “operating system” that has proven its workability in a wide variety of settings. Two, not implementing Proficiency/Competency/Mastery Teaching and Learning is a sign of lack of leadership grit. The real crisis in education is the lack of strong leadership in some schools and systems. Jaime Robles (Lindsay High School principal - more below) says, “The transition requires courageous and committed leadership. The transition requires a collaborative effort from ALL stakeholders.”
The good news is that most educators now understand that the proficiency/competency education model is the new model that works much better than the factory-education model (where one size doesn't fit all, and time is the constant and learning is the variable). Conference keynote speaker Jaime Robles (Lindsay Unified School District) was fantastic. In all of my recent talks and workshops, I’ve been quoting the entire Wall Street Journal article about Lindsay (“Shaking Up the Classroom - Some Schools Scrap Age-Based Grade Levels, Focusing on Mastery of Material”), It is a fantastic article and well worth reading. (Do an Internet search the full title to access the article if you don't have a WSJ subscription or you have trouble with the link.)
The average educational level of Lindsay parents is 6th grade. The Journal notes that in Lindsay “[a]bout 95% of the pupils are Latino, and 100% qualify for free lunch.” But proficiency is working in Lindsay! This is exciting news - it works in all school settings! More importantly, “[I]n the past few years, Iowa, Connecticut, Maine and Utah changed laws to let districts define what a credit means, bringing the number to 29 states.” Hearing Jaime speak and having lunch with him was incredible. He showed this video about Lindsay during his keynote and other related Lindsay videos are available here.
To make it all work at Lindsay, all teachers are now “learning facilitators”, all student are “learners”, classrooms are now “learning environments”, and the school has become a “learning community”. It all works! The good news is that Lindsay isn’t the only good news! Stay tuned for more good news about proficiency-based teaching and learning. As Jaime Robles said, “We recognize it’s not the only way to do it, however we believe performance-based education is the right thing to do.”
Note: Here is the correct link to my article “Putting All Students in the Driver’s Seat”, that I discussed in my last blog.
Also, I’ve updated my list of Proficiency Resources on my blog page (below my picture).
on Thursday July 9 at 09:20AM
Wanted to share some good news. An article I wrote (A New Paradigm - Putting All Students in the Driver's Seat) was just published in the launch of AdvancED Source, a new online resource that connects practitioners, legislators and educational leaders to explore education for today's learners. Designed for those who want to help ensure that all learners realize their full potential, The Source houses articles from education thought leaders and practitioners, videos, opinion pieces, case studies and more, reaching more than 100,000 readers.
Mr. Mark Siegel
on Tuesday December 2, 2014
I was bothered by an Edutopia blog I read a while ago that I just re-read ("Why Do We Need to Learn This?"). The author writes:
"When are we going to ever use this stuff?" is a protesting lament heard by most teachers several times a year. It comes from students with little patience to put up with ideas or concepts too abstract or irrelevant for them to fathom. Many more students share this thinking but have sufficient impulse control to keep their lips from expressing the same thought. Now more than ever, with Common Core emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving in an ever-changing world of information and technology, there are even many educators who struggle to identify content that is important and relevant."
It is good for students to ask this question. At the Delphian School students ask this all the time, and they must get it answered before they are allowed to move on in their studies. Studying with the viewpoint of using the information to be learned (and knowing how it will be used) is part of Delphian’s DNA.
In many schools, the answers often start with "you need it to get into college " to "you'll need it in college" and go on from there.
The Edutopia blog said, "Unless students are blessed with an exceptional memory, most of the stuff we teach won't be remembered or used beyond the final exam."
Won’t be remembered? Won’t be used? What?
That raises three important questions.
One, why teach it?
Two, why learn it?
Three, why aren't we doing something better with our student's precious time?
Some background info is needed. Our nation's current school curriculum was invented by the NEA's 1892 Committee of Ten. A quick Internet search tells the whole story. Wikipedia says "the National Education Association formed The 1892 Committee of Ten" to standardize education. "Twelve years of education were recommended, with eight years of elementary education followed by four years of high school..The committee responded unanimously that "...every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil so long as he pursues it, no matter what the probable destination of the pupil may be, or at what point his education is to cease." These recommendations were generally interpreted as a call to teach English, mathematics, and history or civics to every student every academic year in high school. The recommendations also formed the basis of the practice of teaching biology, chemistry, and physics, respectively, in ascending high school academic years."
You get the point! Almost everything in our society has changed except our schools. Today's school desks contain more plastic than wood, whiteboards have replaced chalkboards, and they are used in teacher-centered classes where the teacher talks all the time to get students ready for tests so they can earn grades. High school students find themselves in rooms similar to the rooms in their parent's high schools and they move from room to room whenever the factory-bell rings in the warehouse school system.
Teachers are generally helpless to do anything when students ask why they are studying certain subjects or topics at all, or to help students who have something else they'd rather study. Most teachers have to move their students through state-approved curriculum programs so they can pass tests, regardless of the usefulness of the subjects tested or whether the test scores or grades make any sense.
The Edutopia blog provides three strategies for relevant learning, noting that "[t]he best solution to this problem is to make every lesson relevant to each student. However, given the impossibility of achieving that goal, I offer a few teaching tips that can mostly make that dreaded question about relevance a thing of the past."
Sorry, but relevance questions are relevant! In my experience It is possible to make every lesson relevant to each student. We must do this! It is vital! It can be done and it is done day after day in proficiency-based teaching and learning schools and in project-based learning programs, for example. Chuck Schwann, co-author of Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning has a great but very short video on this.
One blog-suggested approach: "Tell your students that not everything you teach will always make sense. Let them know that you will always do your best to explain when they might use what you are teaching them, but that you might not always know. For example: "Not everything I teach will always make sense to you right away. I'll do my best to explain, and I’ll even try to help you see how you might actually need or use what we're learning. But sometimes you’ll just have to trust that what I'm teaching is important to learn for now -- even if it seems confusing, silly or unnecessary."
I don’t think you can stop there, as I discussed earlier. What does it mean to teach things that don't make sense? Not to be silly about it, but we can understand why people thought the world was flat, or thought the four elements were earth, air, fire and water. What are we teaching and testing that doesn't make sense, and really, why are we teaching things the don't make sense? (I am getting ready to blog the problems in teaching, so I'll stop there on this point.)
A second suggested approach is to use humor. The blog author notes that "a high school teacher I work with tells her students, "I'm not sure because I don't know what you want to be in your life. But if you give me a list of everything you plan to do and accomplish, I'll do my best to let you know when we cover something that I think you might use." When kids say, "I don't know what I'm going to do,” her response is, "Exactly. You might need it next week, next year or never. But it is going to be on Friday's test, not because I want to make you miserable, but because at the end of the year, it is going to be on the state test, and if you want to pass, you need to know it.”
Are you serious? This is humor? Sorry but I don't find this funny. I don’t think “because” is a very good reason for students to study subjects for which there is no other good reason, and “to pass a test” is equally bad. Future careers, the changing world of work, course relevancy, etc. are hot topics. We are preparing students to work and live in a world that we can’t even imagine very well. Things are changing. “As a rule of thumb, 60% of the jobs 10 years from now haven’t been invented yet,” according to futurist Thomas Frey. We could always tell students that this is our best analysis of things you will need to know and able to do, and explain our reasoning, couldn't we? And that is just one step many are taking as we re-look at the skills and abilities that will be needed in the 21st century and beyond.
The third (and best) suggestion in the blog was to "Connect Learning to Life Goals." I can't imagine doing it any other way. Really!
But I disagree with the author's suggested way of connecting Algebra to learning to be successful. He writes:
"At one of my seminars on motivating unmotivated students, an algebra teacher gave me a paper he gives to all of his students on their first day in his class. He calls it "Algebra Attitude Adjustment." It begins: "So, you are stuck taking this class and having to learn stuff that you most likely will never need. Why do you even have to take this class? I mean, it is all so unfair." After continuing in that vein for a bit, he writes, "Remember that you want to be successful. A successful person would figure out a way to use a class like this to his or her advantage. A successful person would want to take this seemingly bad situation and twist it around. A successful person would take lemons, make lemonade and sell it! So here's the silver bullet -- the secret to success -- the key to surviving this algebra thing:
It's not about the math!
You're not just in a math class!
THIS IS A CLASS IN SUCCESS TRAINING!"
End of blog quote - start of "are you kidding?" I understand where the author is coming from, but this is not good! The sentences don't link together. Being in algebra (an exciting class) is not something "all so unfair", and it is not useless. (Check out Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel. Check out his video.)
Wikipedia says "Algebra is one of the broad parts of mathematics. In its most general form algebra is the study of symbols and the rules for manipulating symbols and is a unifying thread of all of mathematics. ..Elementary algebra is essential for any study of mathematics, science, or engineering, as well as such applications as medicine and economics."
I am going out on a limb (smile) and declaring algebra is not useless. Moreover, we should not be complaining at all. We should be excited about the fact that we have access to problem-solving tools and the language of science that everyone can learn and use.
(Side note: I will be blogging at length about a recent NY Times article Why do Americans Stink at Math? which you may to read now for free if you don't have an online subscription that enables you to access the article.)
Please. Yes, we often have to do things that we don't want to do, but the stated goal of algebra is not to do something you don't want to do. Come on! Remember, the blog author said the material being studied "won't be remembered or used beyond the final exam."
If the point of algebra is learning to succeed I suggest that is a bad way to teach how to be successful, It is wasteful of rooms full of student/human potential and useful problem-solving skills. I do think that an education goal is learning to succeed, but I have a better idea than doing that with Algebra. I suggest giving students some real-world problems (or find out what problems they'd like to solve to make the world better) - such as helping feed the needy in the school’s local community or addressing global human needs (food, shelter, clean water, etc). We’ve seen stories of school and student heroes who make a difference. The highest purpose of algebra is not to help students learn to be successful, I respectfully suggest that we could do this in a way that could make the world a better place instead of earning a meaningless letter grade!
This is part of a bigger problem. Thoughtful educators are concerned about the products of our factory-model time-based schools that are not creating leaders to solve the world's problems, or even encouraging creativity, two things we really need! Read one of Dr. Yong Zhou’s books to see how it could work. There are many other writers, thinkers and leaders I will discuss in the weeks and months ahead.
Please. Take the student’s questions seriously, and let’s get school out of the 19th century. There are much better working models! Why we don't have more of them in place will be the topic of future blogs.
Meanwhile, let's take student's concerns seriously when they ask "When are we going to ever use this stuff?" It is a great way to start student engagement and to get them owning their own education now, and for their journey of life-long learning.
on Monday July 28, 2014
I oppose academic letter grades for any purpose! I hope they quickly go the way of all things stupid and worthless. Not everyone agrees (yet) but I think the battle is being won.
On Saturday, February 22, 2014 Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed “How to Get a Job at Google” in the New York Times.
“Last June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.”
If you subscribe to the New York Timses you can read the article, and find out what skills and abilities top companies are really looking for.
Since Friedman cited a Google interview last June, I found the interview and wanted to share this point (also available to NY Times subscribers):
“After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.
“Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”
I’m done (for now)! At Delphian, we’ve know this and if you know anything about us, you’d know that we part ways with lecture-method traditional academic environments because they are both artificial and they don’t work! Delphian prides itself on its real-world approach full of lots of project-based learning, practical activities and all the parts of program that make us so unique.
Delphian grads may not choose to work at Google, but they are gaining real-world skills and abilities so they could work at Google if they wanted to, or they could start their own companies. They are getting the kind of education we need more of. Much more!
on Friday July 25, 2014 at 02:16PM
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