Value-based Learning: From Bake-sale to Brilliant

Going Beyond

Schools all over are trying to figure out how to provide real-world learning for their students and many are beginning to realize how much a regular school schedule gets in the way of curating authentic learning experiences. Part of “real-world” is rethinking how we structure our time. I have previously written about the importance of “concentrated endeavor ” and wanted to share some of my experience creating and supporting off-time-table learning experiences through the lens of value creation. For examples of programs I have created, see iLead+Design (California) and GreenLEAP (Green School Bali).

Value-based Learning

I recently advised on the development of an exciting new program at Chinese International School (CIS). CIS is a day school based in Hong Kong but several years ago they spun up a residential program in Hangzhou, China, which most of their Grade 9 students attend. The aim is to build independence and provide language and cultural immersion by “…taking students away from the remote ‘classroom world’ and immersing them in the real one.” Continue reading

Redefining Academic Rigor

There are two kinds of academic rigor. The standard kind is measured in number of hours spent; in the amount of predetermined information memorized and regurgitated. It involves running fast to jump through the hoops put before you. It involves being handed problems and showing you can follow prescribed pathways to solve them. It involves following orders. The message to students is: “Put your head down and slog through it. One day it will pay off.” This is not the rigor that leads to a sustainable world. We need so much more.

We need to think of rigor in a different way. Engagement and effort are indeed key indicators of rigor, but what you engage in and how you engage with it are equally important. What about learning to identify on your own what is important? What about being able to identify opportunities no one else has seen? Rigor, yes—but towards the goal of creating advanced learners, not just advanced rememberers; towards fostering advanced creators, not just advanced imitators.

Children are innate learners, and the key is to build on that strength. With them. As partners. Doing real things in the real world. Modeling for them what it means to be an advanced learner, and collaborator, and doer. And helping them engage rigorously with the world around them so that they gain not only the knowledge they need to thrive in it, but the skills, and the habits, and the attitudes that allow them to use that knowledge for the most meaningful impact possible.

Pedagogy vs. Curriculum – The How is the What

The How is the What

What (content) and how (pedagogy) cannot be separated. How we teach also teaches a what.

Example 1: Coercion has no place in education.

If we use coercion to get students to study what we want when we want, we are teaching them that how you get people to do the things in this world is by using a power imbalance. We should be teaching them that respect and empathy are the primary drivers of influence.

Example 2: Students need to define what is important

Telling students what is important to learn teaches them that their own interests are not of value.

It also removes from them the ability to evaluate what is important themselves. An illustration:

“Students: We are studying American History from the Civil War to World War II. Here are the important things to know about this period, and how we will engage with learning them. And the dates we will cover each.”

An alternative how would be: “You have chosen to study this period in history. How about we start by each looking into what might be important to know about form this time period, and we’ll come back together and build that list? If you are able to convince others of the importance of the items you pick, they will more likely make it on the list.” This helps them build the skill of determining what is important and understand why. They learn the “content” while they are learning these important skills (and they learn the content better).

Example 3: Instruction can be powerfully destructive Continue reading

Concentrated Endeavor

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/

flickr.com/photos/smemon/

I often get asked about the learning environments that support entrepreneurial learning/21st century skills development. There are many practices that weave together to create proper conditions, informed by guiding principles and paradigms such as:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
  4. We need to approach education by building on strengths, instead of correcting deficiencies.

One of the most important practices is how we structure our learning experiences in time. I’ve already spoken in my post on The Entrepreneurial Learner about how endeavor relates to learning, how students should not be given an education—they should endeavor to build one (with expert support). But what is concentrated endeavor? I’ll start by illustrating it’s opposite, distributed endeavor. Continue reading

Noticing and Wondering: Kicking off and supporting enquiry

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Wonderment

Noticing and Wondering

(Special thanks to colleague Sara Soulier who helped me workshop this at a recent conference)

Could there be any more important skills than the skills to notice and to wonder?

The normal paradigm in school is to train students that what other people notice and wonder about is more important than their own observation and enquiry. Example: “Students, today we are studying American history from the industrial revolution to the present. Here is the syllabus of important topics, and when and how we will engage with them.”

The assumption is that what’s important here is the information and lessons we can learn from this period in history. Those are important things to know. But what about the ability to determine what is important and how to learn it? I would argue that is the more important “lesson” to be learned.

It’s possible to learn information without gaining the skills to determine what’s important and how to learn it. It’s not possible to learn what’s important and how to learn it without actually learning content. Content is a byproduct of learning to learn. The opposite is not necessarily true.

Recent research is showing that overly scheduled children have reduced executive function. We have growing anecdotal evidence from every sector that hiring “A” students from top universities guarantees mostly that you will get people who can follow directions very well, but who often cannot identify problems or architect and implement solutions. What can we change in how we approach education to alter our course?

Focus on learning how to learn as the primary purpose of education with content as a byproduct. But what does that look like? Continue reading

Why Graduate Profiles Feel Wrong

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Let’s face it. Every school’s graduate profile sounds the same these days.

“Lifelong learner”

“Global citizen”

“Able and willing to make a difference”

Etc.

You know the drill. All worthy aspirations for our students, and for what we want to help them become. All schools engage in conversations about these end goals, the programs and pedagogy that will get them there, what measures if any will provide feedback on whether the goals have been met, and how the school is doing over time at producing its product. That’s standard, responsible practice, right?

I’ve been involved in creating graduate profiles several times, and while it feels like a worthy exercise, it always feels like something is missing.

We ask: Do we not have the right descriptors? Have we worded them optimally? Do we have the right graphic to convey them? Are they in the right order? We fuss over the minutiae searching for perfection, because it is such an important thing to describe who we want our students to become. These are lives we are dealing with, after all.

So why does it never feel right? Because it’s the wrong paradigm.

It’s a deficiency mindset.

There are two ways of looking at education. The standard lens is that our children are missing something, that they need to acquire it, and that we need to give it to them—that they need to be shaped and molded to our vision of what they should become. Most education operates within this paradigm.

The other is that the job of education is to support the unique strengths and gifts of each child, and to support them in growing from there. This isn’t to say that there is nothing adults can offer to children. We can help them become the best versions of themselves, and we can do that thoughtfully and skillfully, by structuring our efforts and our environment around that sacred duty.

So if you have been struggling with your graduate profile, the problem may not be in the details. It may be with the paradigm itself. If that’s the case, I encourage you to build it from the other direction, and talk about who your students are, not who they will become. Focus your attention to the present, and trust that it’s just what it needs to be to move to a bright future.

Our students are…Exactly who they need to be at this moment

Build your program around that.

By the way, this is the latest installment of my Changing Education Paradigms series. The tally currently stands at:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
  4. We need to approach education by building on strengths, instead of correcting deficiencies.

Special thanks to Jenifer Fox and Yong Zhao for their excellent work on strength-based and emergent education. I don’t know if either have specifically addressed graduate profiles, and should note the views above may not represent their views on the subject. Thanks also to colleagues Glenn Chickering and Dan Kinzer for insightful conversation on why graduate profiles feel hollow.

Further reading:

Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox

World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students by Yong Zhao