I had a teacher recently ask how handle it when students ask if their work is “good”. She wants to help them, but doesn’t want to be seen as the ultimate authority on what is “good”.
Firstly, “authority” and “expertise” are not bad things, and we don’t want to remove that experience and skill from our teams. However, I totally get where she is coming from in terms of not wanting to train students to be constantly reliant on others for evaluation of quality.
When students ask a teacher for guidance on whether their work is “good”, I usually try to do the following:
Let them know anything I share in terms of evaluation is only my opinion, based on my own experience, while appreciating that they view my opinion as valuable
Be open about my desire to help them calibrate their own ability to evaluate product quality
Try to help them be more specific in their language. For instance I might say: “I’m not sure what you mean by “good”. Are you wondering if I think the client will be happy with it? Or if it meets the criteria you are designing towards? Or if I think it demonstrates knowledge of the skill you are trying to develop”? etc.
And finally, I would invite the students to help me evaluate my work at times as well, and each other’s work, so they build that evaluative skill as well as practice the language of inviting and sharing analysis of work.
I hope that’s helpful. I’d love comments on how others approach this subject with care with their students.
Eric Mazur introduced the flipped classroom to much interest a couple of decades ago. The idea—and a very good one—is that the time we have together in class is precious, and is being totally underutilized by a one-to-many dissemination of information. In the internet age, Mazur thought, why couldn’t we do the lecture outside of class, when homework would normally be done, and “work” with the concepts together, in class, when we had others around us to work with, not to mention the guidance of the expert teacher? Brilliant, no?
But I think there is an even more important flip that needs to follow. It’s flipped accountability. It’s part of a critical need to transform education by shifting the focus away from information and content (the stuff of 200 years ago) and towards skills and mindsets, to fully support development of human capacity.
Why do we need to shift? Two main reasons:
The focus on information is damaging our children through the opportunity cost of what they are missing (see the work of Peter Gray on the criticality of mixed age, free play to fully develop human capacities) and because of the learning principle of “how we teach teaches more than what we teach” (“Do this math because I say so, or else, and how dare you have your own interests”).
You actually learn content better when you are engaging with it as part of individually meaningful and socially relevant context
Before we move on, let’s dispel the myth that you have to sacrifice content in order to learn skills. It’s a false dichotomy that I’ve called out before. It is possible to “learn” content (or memorize, at least) without learning critical skills, but it is not possible to learn critical skills without learning content, and often much more deeply than through other means.
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).
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.”
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.
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
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:
We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
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.
(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?
Let’s face it. Every school’s graduate profile sounds the same these days.
“Able and willing to make a difference”
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’m currently directing a program at Green School in Bali on Entrepreneurial & Enterprise Education. My experience building and describing this program has given me some new language to talk about the paradigm shifts I have been advocating in education, heretofore enumerated as:
We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
I’ve started to talk about these paradigm shifts merged together as Entrepreneurial Learning, because 1) the concept crucially includes the learner as part of the equation, and 2) it describes an attitude and approach that both learner and educator can use to keep focused on the three paradigm shifts outlined above. So why the Entrepreneurial Learner, given that many may misinterpret it as advocating a focus on money and business exclusively? My application of the term to learning is very intentional here, and is meant to conjure what is conveyed by a common synonym for the term: enterprising “having or showing initiative and resourcefulness”
Those are the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and they are ones that I think most of our schooling paradigms do not currently promote—in fact actively counteract. I think we should be training learners to bring forth initiative and resourcefulness in everything they endeavor towards, including their own learning.
The definition of “entrepreneur” that I am working off of is:
“characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit”
But I’m using the French word origin, “entreprendre,” meaning “to undertake” as a mandate for latitude to apply the characteristics of entrepreneurship—indeed the habits, skills, and attitudes that help one be successful at goals of one’s own choosing—to learning. I think it’s critical that we do so. Education is so often seen as something that is done to students. I don’t think students should “receive” an education. I think they should undertake one—and take risks doing so—for their own profit and the profit of the world they live in. As I look around, I’m also seeing this language used by Yong Zhao, among others. Here are a couple of articles for further reading: