Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Want Kids to Learn? Put Them in Charge - Well, Almost!

Want to know a secret?

Something that will have more kids learning more?

Something you can have your students do that takes only a few minutes a day.

It's so simple you won't believe it. And if you pay it forward, it could change the K12 world for the better in an iFlash! It's called iLearner. Short for I'm the Learner. I'm the one in charge. I'm the only one who can make my learning happen.

It's the answer to the question: Who's responsible for my learning?

The answer is, altogether now, "I am!"

Riddle me this? Why have we left the most important part of learning out of the learning equation? The answer is at the bottom of this rant.

Back in the early 21st century someone thought that quality in K12 education was like quality in producing widgets. It was all part of what was called the Total Quality Movement or TQM. The thinking behind the production of excellent widgets was to standardize them. It makes sense.

But I have a revelation for the millions of us pursuing TQM in our schools today: our students aren't standardized. They are all different. Their needs are different.Their desire to learn is different. The resources they need to learn differ. Their goals in life are different. Their talents are different and so are their limitations.

But we treat them as if they must all be the same. They must know the same things and meet the same standards. Everyone needs to be above average, regardless of talents. Way back in my teacher-prep days...OK, it was way back in 1958, our education Prof put this clarifying piece of satire in our hands: "Animal School." Read the link below.

In a nutshell we each can't do all. Nor can we each meet all the same standards at the same level. Nor should we.

So why do our teachers have to give up so much learning delivery time to standardized testing? The answer, I believe, is that our educational leaders have been sold a promise in a poke. The promise, incidentally, is worth millions to test-makers and investors and politicians and educators in chief who support this nonsense. The promise is that testing will help make all learners learn all equally well.

That promise is patently false and anyone worth his or her educational salt knows it.

Here's a promise that is patently true: Put learners more in charge of their own learning and their learning will (almost always) improve. I added the parenthetical caveat because nothing is perfect, no matter how good it is. I call it iLearner.

Require each learner, with the help of parent, advisor, mentor, teacher, create a Personal Learning Plan and Portfolio. Keep it terse and pithy. The basics: What do I need to know; what resources and help do I need to learn it; here's my plan to show you that I know. Visit the plan daily with a member of your team and update your progress. When ready, show by a test or a project that you really do know.

If someone wants to make an app out of this million learners idea, share the profits with the schools.

PS: The rant answer is that we have left the learner out of the learning equation because we missed a simpler, less costly answer: Make each child the key part of the teaching/learning team.

PPS:  "Animal School"-- by George Reavis, originally published in 1940's. Will we ever learn?


Tom King said...

Lets hear from you.

Deborah McNelis said...

This post is EXCELLENT! There are numerous points you have made that I agree with and often share also! (Do you think it could be because I am from MN also?) I actually have even talked about the TQM model as well.

I frequently ask audiences,"Why is it that we think all children should be on page 15 at the same time? Or for that matter, why would we have them be primarily learning from a page anyway?"

EVERY brain develops differently! Adults need to recognize, respect and respond to the individual learning of each child.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Stephen MacLennan said...

Bravo. I like the portfolio approach and continually working with a set of resources to learn and demonstrate what has been learned. It's very much like the workplace, in which one works with others to accomplish many and varied projects, though with a young learner, the learning (and demonstration thereof) is the project.

Tom King said...

Thanks for your fine comments, Deborah and Stephen.

Every brain is different and yet we try to treat them with standardized methods and tests. We group them by age, instead of needs.

Classrooms are too different from the way we work and learn in the real world.