Archive for May, 2012

Tear the Walls Down

Does learning only occur behind the walls of a school building?  Is mathematics only learned inside the four walls of a math classroom?  Is there more knowledge stored within the walls of our schools than the rest of the planet combined?  I believe the answer is and should always be NO.  If that’s the case, then why are we only awarding credit for the learnings that occur inside our school buildings and content specific classrooms?  How do we design a learning environment that will allow students to truly learn anywhere, at anytime, anyhow, and at any pace?

I believe that once we have clear definitions of what students are to know and be able to do, this will become much easier.  The Common Core standards are a huge step in this direction.  There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done with these, but we are moving in the right direction.  Are competencies the answer in clearing this up?  I’m not sure and not completely sold on competencies yet.  However, I am very open to hearing others’ arguments for or against them.

Once we are clear about what students are to know and be able to do, teachers can become facilitators of learning.  They can give up some control, and allow students (I like to call them learners) to struggle through their learning a little and find their personal path to understanding and demonstration of knowledge.  The facilitator and learner then collaborate to find the best plan for the learner to both learn and demonstrate understanding.  The learning in many cases could happen anywhere in the community or, dare I say, world!  That’s an exciting thought for me.  Why can’t a learner go to the art center to learn about art, or even history?  Why can’t a learner go to a museum and learn about history, science, or math?  Why can’t a learner go to Mexico and learn how to speak Spanish or learn about their culture and geography?  I haven’t even mentioned language arts yet because I feel it can be incorporated at all times with any project.  We have to read just about everywhere we go.  We have to either write down or verbally communicate our ideas and learnings each and every time.  Do these not fall into the standards for language arts?

If we have a clear understanding of what students need to know and be able to do, we can realize that we are no longer the keepers of knowledge, we can let go of some control, and we can collaborate with learners, other facilitators, the parents, and the community; it could become easier than we think to tear the walls down of our educational system.  Let’s begin the demolition.


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Are Colleges Dictating How We Record Student Learnings

Why do we continue to use grades to record student understanding?  What does a letter tell us about a student’s understanding?  Or does the letter represent understanding at all?  Many of us are guilty of recording things in a grade book just because the student did the work.  It had nothing to do with how much the student understood or was able to do.  There are also students who refused to do the work, but could demonstrate that they understood the material and scrape by with a D or a C.  Are we recording behaviors or learnings?  Should we be recording the two together as one letter grade.

I feel as though behaviors are extremely important in the work place, and so is the knowledge.  I propose we create/use a student information system that will allow us to record the two separately.  Not as a grade, but as a recording of whether we have demonstrated that behavior or proved proficient in the learning.  The system has to allow for parents, students, teachers, and colleges to know exactly what the student has learned/mastered and what behaviors the student has exuded.  If we were to go to a competency based learning system and allowed for time to be the variable and learning to be the constant, what would be the point in recording levels of understanding?  Would a binary system of meets or doesn’t meet make the most sense for everyone involved?  What would be the repercussions of creating such a recording system when students began to apply for college admittance and scholarships?

I recently began calling colleges to find out what they would do if a student came to them without a GPA or class rank.  They told me that they would have to develop a class rank by taking into account the classes the student took and their ACT/SAT score.  By having that information, they can plug the data into an equation that generates a “class rank” for them.  They then use that to decide if the student will be admitted and what scholarships if any the student will be rewarded with.  I was told that there are a few scholarships the student would miss out on because of the lack of a GPA, but that they were few and the majority are rewarded from class rank, the classes they took, and ACT/SAT scores.

How are we going to omit grades completely until the colleges learn to find better ways of classifying their incoming students?  It’s easy to see that grades don’t make sense in a Competency-Based Learning System, how do we insure that by going to this, colleges aren’t going to deny them the same opportunities everyone else gets?

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Is the current traditional education system stunting the learning of our students?  I’m not asking if it works.  Only asking if it stunts.  What are we teaching our students if we require all learning to occur between the times of 8:00 and 3:00 in the same building?  Can students learn about agriculture on their family farm and report their learnings to an instructor?  Can students conduct an experiment on their own away from school, record the steps they took, and report the results they found to their instructor?  What about PE, band, choir, and art?  Can these not be learned away from school?  Why are we struggling to find ways for students to bundle classes?  Can a student demonstrate learning of a language arts topic while writing papers for social studies, science, math, or any other subject?  Do all students learn everything at the same pace? Should they have to learn everything at the same pace?  Should students have input in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning?

I believe if we want to truly develop life long learners we must educate our students that learning does not only take place behind the walls of a school building.  We must also teach them that the learnings from each class support all of the other classes.  We must teach them to make connections between these classes, or even more importantly, to their interests.  We can do this by asking students to come up with their own connections and ways to demonstrate learning. Allow the students to use their own interests in the demonstration of learning.  We all know that real-world application is very difficult behind the four walls of a classroom. If students are able to learn more, and apply more outside of the classroom then we should allow them/encourage them to do this, and create a new system that supports this.

Let’s figure out exactly what we want students to know and be able to do.  Then allow students and teachers to collaborate to figure out the best path for each student to reach those goals and demonstrate mastery of them.  Say goodbye to bells, grades, teachers as the keepers and deliverers of all knowledge, and students as the passive recipients of knowledge.  Say hello to personalized learning.  If we want students to be lifelong learners we must start teaching them how to learn and understand that this could, and probably will, look different for each and every child.

Did you hear that?  That was the sound of the traditional education system blowing up.  Let’s build a new one.

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Unfold the Potential of Every Child

Students today are becoming more and more disengaged every day.  We all have students who sit in class and do the bare minimum to get by and pass the class.  We also have students who work really hard, only to fail.  We have the advanced students who sit in class bored because they understood the concept five minutes into the class and now have to wait for everyone else to grasp it.  And we have the average student who will get by with B’s and C’s in the current system.  Our current system is unfair to each and every one of these students.  We as educators must find a way to allow every student to find success at their personal pace and support them along the way.  I believe we also need to take it another step further by helping each student find their own personal path to success as well.

It is my opinion that competency based education allows this to happen.  In a Competency Based system grades no longer have any purpose.  Educators can set the bar to the level they want students to reach and then give each student the time and support needed to reach that level.  Time will no longer be the constant, with learning as the variable.  Instead this will have flipped so that learning is the constant, with time as the variable.  In a Competency Based system, conversations change from what do I have to do to get an (insert grade), to what is the best way to learn and demonstrate this competency.  To me, this is an exciting switch.  Almost every educator got into education to make a difference in children’s lives and because it was important to them that their students learn.  If it is more important that students learn, than when students learn, Competency Based Education is the answer for all of us.

Let’s help each and every child unfold their full potential through Comp. Ed.

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