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

Why Graduate Profiles Feel Wrong

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

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

The Entrepreneurial Learner

flickr.com/photos/hamed/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:

  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.

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:

Can Schools Cultivate a Student’s Ability to Think Differently

Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach

Physical Orientation Predicts Team Performance

(This is the more detailed and slightly more preachy version of this missive. For the relatively more concise and less preachy version, click here).

Assertions:

  1. Small teams that orient themselves in physical shapes conducive to communication will outperform teams that do not.
  2. This law of Team Orientation is best learned through doing, and not from being told (as are most things….)

Scene: Classroom, students divided into two teams.

The task: Could be anything, but in this case, it’s designed to give students exposure using Moodle and Google Drive.

Rules of the challenge: First team to have all members reply to a forum post with a click-able link to a shared Google Doc (in this case containing a brief on their relationship with technology) wins.

Limitations: (Limitations increase creativity and innovation – see Phil Hansen’s TED Talk, Embrace the Shake). Each team gets only two questions of the instructor (this forces use of internal team resources, and clear team communication about when to use the valuable resource of a question to the instructor).

Teacher skill development: Practicing letting students trip and stumble until they find their stride as a team. I fear our parenting (mine included) and our education paradigm are depriving people from learning how to solve problems on their own and in groups, and that we have to wean ourselves of constantly stepping in and helping them along. (See Blessings of a Skinned Knee and tons of other resources on this point).

I’m sure this has been written about in a thousand other places, but I have some recent evidence to support Assertion #1; that physical orientation is a factor in team success. Facilitating a handful of sections of 9th graders attempting this team challenge, in every case the winning team was the one that oriented itself in physical space for better communication, and in every case it was a blowout win. Here are examples of two of the classes, and how they arranged their seating for the group challenge.

Following image: In a classroom with a big square-cornered horseshoe, the team that huddled at one corner demolished the other team, which was spread far apart.

Horseshoe seating arrangement for teamwork

Following image: In a room with individual desks originally arranged in typical grid format, facing front—it was the team that arranged a circle that demolished the other, which had brought their desks closer together, but remained facing forward.
Grid seating classroom self-arranged for teamwork

The obvious hypothesis is that this arrangement allows for better communication—likely through the simple fact, in my thinking, that the team members can see each other, and thus pick up on the preponderance of communication signals that are non-verbal. (Of course, dear scientists out there, it is also possible that the physical orientation of successful teams is a result of the already superior team-working skills of the winning teams, but I think the random sampling of the team formation addresses this issue).

There are many other critical skills students can internalize through such activities, and I think that we are remiss as teachers if we are thinking explicitly only of the content we are covering. Yes, I need all these students to be able to use the cloud resources we covered in this exercise, but that “content” is not nearly as important in my mind as what they learned about teamwork and communication. Further, I would argue, and I think the research strongly supports, that this “content” is learned better when it is done in conjunction with social interaction and the employment of various other “critical skills” (see 21st Century Skills, Blooms Taxonomy, etc., and Assertion #2 above).

Schools that are able to survive and thrive in the coming years, and more importantly that will best serve their students, are ones who institutionally and culturally embrace the idea of explicitly designing instruction for critical skill development, and who help their teachers develop the skills teachers need to construct these 21st century learning environments in ways that model the environments the teachers are designing for. Saying that another way: teachers will need to learn these new skills — in how to design learning to explicitly incorporate critical skills practice and development — in environments that model the environments they will be designing (real problems, and community-integrated, IMHO).

UPDATE 9/13/13

We had our first class where both teams oriented themselves into team-friendly shapes, and myself and the other teacher in class commented to each other that this was going to be the first close match. Our prediction held, and the team that won did so just barely (whereas all other classes saw blowouts, with the well-oriented team soundly defeating the other). Interestingly, we were still able to predict within two minutes of the 30 minute challenge which of the two well-oriented teams would win, and this was done based on the amount of eye contact, chatter, and getting up to walk over to another team member the team exhibited.

 

Schools and Change – Do We Adapt or Do We React?

A recent post by Clay Shirky – Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis – got me thinking about schools as institutions, and how they handle change. Here’s a quote form the post:

“The ability of institutions to adapt slowly while preserving continuity of mission and process is exactly what lets them last longer than a single leader or lifespan. When change in the outside world outstrips an institution’s adaptive capabilities, though, the ability to defend the internal organization from outside pressures can become a liability. Stability can tun into rigidity and even institutional blindness.”

Now, Shirky is talking about the news industry here, but the idea applies to all industries. So for schools too, institutional history and momentum are important. But change is inevitable and necessary, and it is how the organization changes that determines how well momentum and continuity of mission are carried through. A key notion here in how change is met – and it is a notion that needs to be made clear – is that  being adaptive is different than being reactive. In other words, all change is not healthy. An organization is adaptive that changes its long term goals based on a changing world, and acts accordingly to meet those goals. A reactive organization changes according to immediate environmental pressures and, if it survives, becomes a product of those pressures instead of a product of its own intention and mission.

These questions come to me:

  1. What are the changes that schools are currently undertaking (private and public), and are they being reactive or adaptive?
  2. Shirky speaks of institutions as needing continuity of mission and process. How much of what we do is up for discussion while still retaining continuity of mission, and is continuity of process a requirement for stability, or is process potentially one of the things that might need to change in adaptation?
  3. Is it perhaps the preserving of schools as institutions in their current form that keeps us from making the changes needed to actually fulfill our mission in education?

Your thoughts appreciated.

Also look for more on these questions in future posts…

21st Century Skills for Teachers

Teacher skills in 50 words or less.  Go….!

Here’s my stab at it:


“Every teacher should be able to articulate how their lessons engage higher order learning, how they offer the opportunity for development of critical skills, how learning outcomes offer related evidence, and how assessment is used to provide formative feedback in both areas.”

 

I was recently inspired by a WIRED article on the Art of the Elevator Pitch. Couldn’t education benefit from a good pitch?

I’d love to hear how others might phrase a concise statement about the critical skills necessary for teachers.  Please leave comments with your version, or skills that should be added to the list.

Can anyone help spread this around to see if we can get Angela Maiers to post her version?

Role of Technology in Education

As most of us know, literacy is not just about reading any more. The printed book was a giant leap forward in our ability to distribute information, but we are now in the fairly early stages of another information revolution – one that requires the definition of literacy to be expanded. In today’s world, we are dealing with orders of magnitude more information, coming from orders of magnitude more sources, with orders of magnitude (you get the idea) more avenues to distribute and publish – so the problem isn’t simply how to read the information any more: in this new world of information surpluss, it is about directing the flow of information inward and outward, evaluating it and processing it, collaborating with others to do more with it than we can alone – ulitmately making it serve our goals, interests, and needs.
These are skills we take very seriously at Stevenson, and to help further these ends, our job in the technology department is to:
1) manage an evolving infrastructure that can support the practice and use of these skills
2) to support the faculty as they endeavor to weave the development of these skills into their curricula
3) to help identify how the ever-evolving techno-sphere can further learning in all areas

How does technology relate to education, and what role does a technology department play in a school? Read on for some musings…

As most of us know, literacy is not just about reading any more. The printed book was a giant leap forward in our ability to distribute information, but we are now in the fairly early stages of another information revolution – one that requires the definition of literacy to be expanded. In today’s world, we are dealing with orders of magnitude more information, coming from orders of magnitude more sources, with orders of magnitude (you get the idea) more avenues to distribute and publish – so the problem isn’t simply how to read the information any more; In this new world of information surpluss, it is about directing the flow of information inward and outward, evaluating it and processing it, collaborating with others to do more with it than we can alone – ulitmately making it serve our goals, interests, and needs.

These are skills every school should take very seriously, and to help further these ends, the job of a technology department should be to:

1) manage an evolving infrastructure that can support the practice and use of these skills

2) support the faculty as they endeavor to weave the development of these skills into their curricula

3) help identify how the ever-evolving techno-sphere can further learning in all areas

Thoughts, comments?