This week in the LEAP Academy program at Green School many of us are reflecting on what it means to be in charge of your own learning, and what the difference is when in a more traditional class structure. I interviewed a student on this subject. Coralie is not in LEAP Academy, but she is in a class I teach called Your Big Idea, where students bring their ideas of what they want to work on and I act as a mentor. Coralie has been in this class with me several times, and she is very skilled at structuring and nourishing her own learning. She provides some insight here in this audio interview on her process and the differences between this style and “normal” school. Thanks Coralie!
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).
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. Continue reading →
(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 →
This post relates to an exercise we did in the Communication and Media Literacy course I offer to new students at my high school. We are beginning to look explicitly at persuasion, and began by discussing persuasion in general, using these prompts:
Why do we try to persuade people?
Who do we want it for?
What do we want to persuade people of? (to do something [policy], to believe something [fact, value]). Examples of each type? Examples of people trying to persuade you?
Examples of you trying to persuade other people?
I then asked that each of them reflect on persuasion in their ePortfolios, using this prompt:
On your ePortfolio, add a page: “Reflection On Persuasion”
Post link to Forum by next class.
Share something interesting about persuasion in your life.
Link to something interesting related to persuasion, and relate what important ideas it brings to mind for you.
I offered my own reflection on persuasion as an example, which I link to here, the same place I sent the students. I explicitly put this on my own blog and directed them here in order to pierce the veil between the real world and school; to demonstrate that there is real value in the thoughts we have.
This reflection on persuasion was done by me as part of an exercise in my Communication and Media Literacy class. (You can find the Teacher Edition here).
When I think about persuasion, I realize that we are always trying to persuade people to either do things or believe things. Often, it is ourselves we are trying to convince. And people are always trying to persuade us to do or believe things as well. What strikes me is that we need to be careful — to be full of care — by being clear on why we are trying to persuade people of things. Often, when we are trying to persuade others of things, it is for our own selfish benefit, even if we habitually try to persuade ourselves it is for the benefit of the other person. So we must take care. When we try to persuade others for our own benefit — which is okay, by the way; it is not something to be ashamed of in and of itself — we do need to be careful that we are clear to ourselves who we are doing it for, and to be ethical in our methods. Persuasion can fast become manipulation if we are not ethical in our methods. What are some guidelines to keep us from moving into manipulation territory? Well, I have a few ideas, but I decided to look into what some other people think on this, and found this post by Jonathan Fields, that I thought discusses the line between persuasion and manipulation pretty clearly and insightfully. According to the author:
The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:
1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,
2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and
3) The net benefit or impact on that person
I’ll definitely ponder this further, and examine some of the “persuasion” situations in my life. I’m hoping the audit is favorable to my character 🙂