Best Practices … Revisited

Children of the Salaam Baalak Trust in New Delhi

cross posted at Education is My Life

In my last post on Best Practices, I explored the notion of student engagement and the need for teachers to be mindful designers, concentrating on facilitating meaningful experiences for students, rather than simply covering content. Tootling around various education-related blogs on the web, I feel like I’m in an echo chamber – too many of us are repeating the same notion over and over, perhaps clothed in different vocabulary or using different analogies – but still, it’s the same idea.

I recently returned from several weeks in northern India, a trip that was in and of itself a major learning experience. While I was there, I had the opportunity to explore Indian education initiatives and the incredible pressure placed on students to succeed (watch the Bollywood hit 3 Idiots – it’s both eye-opening and a wonderful movie). However, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer happiness and joy of students in India. In a country that is 1/3 the landmass of the USA, but over 3 times the population … there is an intense struggle to increase the literacy rate of its population – and over the past few years, more and more Indian children are able to attend school. However 4% of Indian students never attend school and 58% never work past grade 5. Those percentages may seem small … but 4% of India’s population is 8 million children … and 58% is 74 million. You can imagine that in India, education is considered an extremely high priority. Indeed, whenever I encountered students in India, they were smiling and happy, eager to practice their English (however limited), and simply thrilled with the idea of being in school.

This raises the question of culture … and how much has changed in US education over the past few decades. Tests that measure creativity emphasize a drop in American student ability in past years – nicely correlated with the rising emphasis on standardized testing. Teachers cite having to “teach to the test” as a reason to leave the profession. Students are being lulled into a plug and play mentality … and can be overheard asking teachers to “just tell me what will be on the test so I can memorize it.” Who cares if they really understand?

There is a distinct difference between teaching and learning. Teachers can always fail, but learners never do. In terms of best practices, we need to foster an environment that values learningand not just attending school, passing through, and succeeding on exams.

In his recent book To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink discusses the current state of education in the US, emphasizing the need for students to connect to what they are learning. While schools emphasize a priority on problem-solving ability, in reality, employers are looking for graduates who can identify problems. Solution isn’t the real issue when we need to figure out the problem in the first place. It’s challenging to identify a problem when there is no personal or professional connection to it … context is simply absent.

To circle back to my previous post on engaging students in the learning process, Schlechtyidentifies the need for instructional designers to consider authenticity – but much of what we teach students is manufactured or manipulated. When assignments are inauthentic, they are not meaningful or relevant, and inherently disengaging.

For those who argue that curriculum cannot be meaningful or relevant, take a look at Big Picture Schools, now being replicated around the US. Core curriculum is built around student interests rather than using a standardized approach (á la Common Core) … lo and behold, students become passionate about their learning because it finally matters.

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