Recently, Laura referenced a reflection by her colleague Sandra Switzer of the Lovett School:
It is my sense that once students become aware of the distinct qualities that empower their learning, they refuse to accept anything less, choosing instead to recreate them in other classes. Engendering personal investment is difficult under our culture’s current pedagogical paradigm where numbers rule. Learning is goal oriented. Many teachers feel confined to material likely to be found on standardized tests. These numbers matter to the teacher, the school, and the students in terms of funding and admissions. Unfortunately this emphasis leads to what I call the “anorexic-bulimic” model of teaching. Students “binge” on facts the night before a test and “purge” it out the next day. Little is retained and even less is understood. Perhaps most importantly, students see learning as a tedious, if necessary, chore.
Which is why I’m not surprised to read in DuFour’s book (see previous post for link) that a helpful prescription for effective learning is to remove content and to focus on teaching children how to learn. I’ve made some strides in the former (we’ve removed some heavy-duty material from the Spanish 1 & 2 curriculum in order to focus on depth rather than breadth), and only time will tell if I’m effectively practicing the latter. So far, my students have been asked to complete specific tasks given tools and parameters, rather than step-by-step instructions. They’ve been asked to work with other students on a collaborative project in which they work toward a shared outcome, rather than individual but related tasks. And they’ve been asked to connect their individual work with one another and with world events.
But the thing that most struck me in Switzer’s reflection is this: “Once students become aware of the distinct qualities that empower their learning, they refuse to accept anything less, choosing instead to recreate them in other classes.” True, there is a core constituency of teachers out there, ourselves included, that are trying to make these fundamental changes. But perhaps global change will not come from some Professional Development Enlightenment. Perhaps students, empowered by positive experience in one class, will help their other teachers find opportunities for relevant, student-centered, process-oriented learning in their own classes.
You cannot demand something that you don’t know exists or that you cannot identify yourself. Perhaps an “educated” student, and not a motivated facilitator, will be our best advocate for substantive change in our classrooms.