A piece of “what”: questions are wind in the sails on open seas, not speed bumps on “coverage road”

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.
– Grant Lichtman, The Falconer

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The difference between grappling and other forms of learning is that when the questions become the students’ own, so do the answers.
– Sizer and Sizer, The Students Are Watching

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Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.
– Clay Christensen as quoted by Jason Fried on “Why Can’t Someone Be Taught Until They’re Ready To Learn?” on Farnam Street blog

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Great questions have legs. They propel the learning forward.
– Edna Sackson, “Great questions have legs…” blog post on What Ed Said

Have you ever gotten annoyed by repetitive questioning? In many ways, it’s natural to feel such annoyance at certain times. Yet, if the questioner is genuinely curious and inquiring authentically, then there is great reason to exercise patience and understanding.

Have you ever encountered a classroom where questions become discouraged? On more than a few occasions, I have heard a teacher indicate, “No more questions! We have too much to cover.” And I have read teacher-tip books about techniques and manipulatives for limiting students to a certain number of questions per class period.

When did questions become speed bumps instead of wind in the sails? Do you see questions as slow-down frustrations or travel-spurring energies?

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
– Plutarch

As a new year begins, here’s to those who strive to UNCOVER and DISCOVER…not just COVER.

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

A piece of “how”: flatten schools?

Thomas Friedman pointed out to us that The World Is Flat. Do you think that the acceleration of change in the world is related to the progressive flattening of the world?

Many think that schools are one of the slowest changing institutions. Some know the story of Rip Van Winkle waking from his hundred-years nap and only recognizing schools…except that the boards are white instead of green or black. Do you think that the slow rate-of-change in schools is related to their traditionally intense hierarchy?

Would schools be more adaptable and accelerated in their change if they were flatter organizations?

Recently, during one of my morning walks, I listened to Daniel Pink’s “Office Hours” podcast – particularly the interview with Gary Hamel. While listening, my mind made a Venn of a number of resources from which I have recently learned:

  1. First, Let’s Fire All the Managers,” Gary Hamel, Harvard Business Review, December 2011.
  2. The Power of Networks: Shifting our Metaphors for Learning and Knowledge,” a blog post from Jonathan Martin on 21k12 – particularly the RSA video of Manuel Lima.
  3. Nobody’s as Smart as Everybody—Unleashing Individual Brilliance and Aligning Collective Genius” by Jim Lavoie at Rite-Solutions, discovered as I explained on this recent blog post.
  4. What If Bill Gore Founded a School?” a great blog post from Craig Lambert.

What if schools were flatter in nature…like our flat world? Would school adaptability be amplified and accelerated?

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

A piece of “how”: Know what we do; communicate, communicate, communicate; build a tribe

Do we really know what we do in schools? Does each school know what it does? Not at a cursory level, but at a deep and meaningful level.

Do we communicate tirelessly and effectively with our internal folks and with all of our external constituencies? Does every stakeholder or group member genuinely understand and believe in what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it?

Are we nurturing relationships – people – to turn groups into unified tribes?

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

A piece of “what:” pedagogy

46. At the heart of pedagogy

When we think about the role of school, we have to take a minute to understand that we backed into this corner; we didn’t head here with intent.

A hundred and fifty years ago, 1 percent of the population went to the academy. They studied for studying’s sake. They did philosophy and mathematics and basic science, all as a way to understand the universe.

The rest of the world didn’t go to school. You learned something from your parents, perhaps, or if you were rich, from a tutor. But blacksmiths and stable boys and barbers didn’t sit in elegant one-room schoolhouses paid for by taxpay- ers, because there weren’t any.

After the invention of public school, of course, this all changed. The 1 percent still went to school to learn about the universe.

And 99 percent of the population went to school because they were ordered to go to school. And school was about basic writing (so you could do your job), reading (so you could do your job), and arithmetic (so you could do your job).

For a generation, that’s what school did. It was a direct and focused finishing school for pre-industrial kids.

Then, as often happens to institutions, mission creep sunk in. As long as we’re teaching something, the thinking went, let’s teach something. And so schools added all manner of material from the academy. We taught higher math or physics or chemistry or Shakespeare or Latin—not because it would help you with your job, but because learning stuff was important.

Public school shifted gears—it took the academy to the masses.

I want to be very clear here: I wouldn’t want to live in an uneducated world. I truly believe that education makes humans great, elevates our culture and our economy, and creates the foundation for the engine that drives science which leads to our well being. I’m not criticizing education.

No. But I am wondering when we decided that the purpose of school was to cram as much data/trivia/fact into every student as we possibly could.

Because that’s what we’re doing. We’re not only avoiding issues of practicality and projects and hands-on use of information; we’re also aggressively testing for trivia.

Which of society’s goals are we satisfying when we spend 80 percent of the school day drilling and bullying to get kids to momentarily swallow and then regurgitate this month’s agenda?

(from Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Read more of the thought-provoker/action-provoker here.)

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]

A piece of “what:” map making, problem finding, messy searching

Rebecca Chapman, literary editor of a new online journal called The New Inquiry, was quoted in the New York Times. “My whole life, I had been doing everything everybody told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. Then, I couldn’t do anything.”

The only surprising thing about this statement is that some consider it surprising.

Rebecca trained to be competent, excelling at completing the tasks set in front of her. She spent more than sixteen years at the top of the system, at the best schools, with the best resources, doing what she was told to do. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, no one is willing to pay her to do tasks. Without a defined agenda, it’s difficult for her to find the gig she was trained for.

[Then, later…] Education isn’t a problem until it serves as a buffer from the world and a refuge from the risk of failure.

(from section 35, pages 53-54, of Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Read the entire section and manifesto here.)

In my jobs as teacher, school administrator, husband, father, educational innovator, etc., I am having to search and discover what needs to be addressed, celebrated, ceased and desisted, opened, studied, innovated, reiteratively prototyped, and enhanced. No one is digesting the messiness for me and handing me well-crafted assignments to complete. While I was in formal school, I think the tasks given to me and the work assigned to me taught me invaluable lessons that I would not trade for the world. I am eternally grateful to my school teachers. But my life has also been filled with the need to make maps, not just read them. I have found it essential that I find problems, not just solve the ones given me. I have needed to search through mess and muck to explore possibilities, connections, relationships, and opportunities. I don’t think I learned these things enough in my formal schooling. Why shouldn’t we incorporate more of this set of modalities into school? Why can’t we create and design more balance into the system of well-defined problems and ready-made assignments?

As the school year begins, are you…

  • Letting students wander in search of their own questions and curiosities, or just directing them to the ones you’ve already defined?
  • Designing space and time for map making, or just promoting and teaching map following?
  • Getting off to the side while students find problems that they think need solving, or just having them solve problems with answers that can be found in the back of a textbook?
  • Making room for students to explore what various real-life work feels like, smells like, tastes like, and sounds like…or just handing them the packages of industrial-age school?

[“A piece of ‘why,'” A piece of ‘what,'” and A piece of ‘how'” are strands of a series on why school needs to change, what about school needs to change, and how schools might navigate the change.]