Will we achieve meaningful school reform with independent efforts that are not designed as interdependent wholes?
Not long ago, I received an email from a group that I highly respect and admire. In the email, they advertised a number of courses for educators, such as:
- Web 2.0 Tools
- Common Core
- Project Based Learning
- iPads and Apps
- Teaching Online
- Blended Learning
- Flipped Classrooms
- STEM, STEAM, and STREAM
- (and some others)
To be clear, I am a “fan” of many, if not all, of these practices, standards, and approaches. And I am certainly not criticizing the educators who enroll in these courses to enhance their practices and work with student learners. I’m all for adult learning and improved instruction.
But where is the school-level approach to enhancement and improvement in these reform practices? Are schools architecting and blueprinting the systemic transformation of which these practices are parts of a whole? How will the “renovations” named above fit into a master plan that harmonizes the curriculum, instruction, assessment, and learning environments that function together as the ecosystem of a school’s teaching and learning core? Is it enough to have “independent contractors” at various schools enrolling in such courses and enhancing their individual practices? Would schools renovate their physical campuses in the same manner in which they are remodeling their pedagogical constructions?
What about the user experience of the student learners who are enrolled in the schools for which these adult learners work? What’s it like for them to live in their school houses when the rooms and the sub-systems of the home don’t seem to be undergoing remodeling that is planned, coordinated, and orchestrated as a connected whole – from a common set of well-crafted designs?
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I’ve been pondering the choices that high schoolers make when they are offered time to pursue their interests or do something that they are excited about. Are there any peer review articles on the development of the brain at that age, decision making at that age, or even something as specific as what happens when students are offered time? Like a free period or a study hall. I am wondering because my students do not know what to do. Their idea of time spent does not involve pursuing something they are actually interested in…
Aaron, I will keep my eye open for such articles as I read. I have also reached out to Glenn Whitman, director of The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (@gwhitmancttl) to inquire if he or his team have articles to suggest. The CTTL is St. Andrew’s Episcopal School’s partnership in neuroscience and education with Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Recently, I got a print piece from them filled with brain-and-learning articles from faculty at SAES and CTTL that blew my socks off.
On another angle, I totally understand your question. You and I have talked about “detox” before when school shifts from teacher-centered to student-directed. I wonder if your students are just conditioned, habituated, and “trained” to think “teachers will give me something to do and learn at school… it’s never really been up to me.” They have atrophied muscles that need exercise and development – to re-learn what “school” can be in your course.
I do think there are articles to find. I think of Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford. I think of Kurt Fisher at Harvard. I think of the Mind-Brain-Education society and “Learning and the Brain” conference. I think of Kay Alderman and work on motivation. I think of Bandura and Pajares and work on self-efficacy.
I’m going to work on this with you. You have me opted in. Thanks!
Aaron and Bo: What a great question that I am ALL in to help pursue. Cathy Cathy Davidson’s work on “attention” comes to mind immediately and I also like what Tony Wagner says in “Creating Innovators” about what students can do when given the time to brainstorm and design. Let me do some research of my own to see if I can uncover some other peer reviewed articles. The one thing our center (www.thecttl.org) encourages teachers to do is to think of themselves as researchers and to design their own studies. Why not do some observational research of your own and see what results you get. I agree with Bo, that the industrial education cycle has disempowered students–like assembly line workers–to think creatively without prompting by teachers during the school day. What has always fascinated me is when a student is liberated to freely think after school hours and some of the things they produce. We need to retrain their brains. The good thing that brain research shows is that the brain is “plastic” and has the ability to rewire itself. So educational leaders need to just give students time and space to “play”. I look forward to being part of this idea exchange. You can also check out the recent publication from our CTTL that Bo referenced that is titled, “Think Differently and Deeply” (Available under the “Resources” tab at http://www.thecttl.org).