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Revolutionizing education

Feb 09, 2018 jjamison

The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -- Anais Nin

It’s time to take a risk. It’s time to revolutionize education, Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized expert on creativity and innovation and author of several books including “The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education,” told attendees at FETC 2018.

“We are spending so much time reinforcing boundaries, maintaining systems which are constraining the growth of human talent, when if we were to invest in developing that talent, it would begin to flourish in a way that would enrich our communities and our children’s lives,” Robinson said.

The current system, he noted, promotes conformity, compliance and competition, but “we need one that promotes diversity, creativity and collaboration.”

The time for revolution is now

Robinson said there’s no need to wait for lawmakers to drive change.

“A lot of people make an assumption that the real way to get things done is to lobby politicians and get them to change their mind about something, or to wait for the government to do something, and I don’t think we should do that,” Robinson said.

“Cultural change is a complicated mixture of groundswell from the bottom combined with pressure on the top to change how things are done,” he added, noting that the groundswell already has begun.

“The more I travel around … the more I know that people are pushing back, saying, ‘We’re done with this. We need to do things different here now.’ And it’s not just teachers -- it’s administrators, it’s parents and it’s kids.”

Don’t believe the resources myth

The resources needed to revolutionize education are at our disposal, Robinson said, explaining that what’s really needed is a reframing of those resources.

In 2013, according to Robinson, testing and educational support in the US was a $16 billion business. “Can you imagine what we could do in America to improve public education with an extra $16 billion a year?”

“Now, to get to that extraordinary number,” he said, “you have to look at not just testing, but all the prep work that goes into it -- all the people involved in it -- and look at how much your own states have been spending on those activities and how much public money is being diverted to pay for tests, administer tests, sort tests and make sense of the conclusions of the tests.”

We need to reframe extant financial resources, but we have other resources at our disposal as well, Robinson said.

“Kids have boundless resources, boundless energy, boundless creativity, and not just in elementary school,” he noted. “And so do teachers. The problem is that the system has been created to keep these things separate and discrete.”

“There are many hundreds of schools -- and whole school districts -- that get this to be the case,” and they are working to make changes, Robinson noted, sharing three examples:

Envisioning the future

What’s the purpose of education? Robinson shared this future-looking vision:

“All of us live in two worlds, not one.” he explained. “There’s a world that exists whether or not you exist. It’s the world that was there before you were born, the world you came into, the world of other people, the history of events and circumstances. Part of the role of education is help[ing] people adjust, understand and relate to that world.”

“There’s another world that exists only because you exist,” Robinson continued. “It’s the world that came into being when you did, and it’s the world that will be gone when you are gone. It’s the world of your private consciousness.” It is here Robinson sees new opportunities for education.

“One of the problems with schools is that we ignore the interior life of our children. It’s why [...] so many children these days are self harming [and] why kids are taking so many steps to distance themselves from the world around them. This isn’t being caused by schools, but it’s a problem that schools have to contend with,” he said.

“It’s why we need a curriculum that’s not just about academic work, but one that’s about social connection, collaboration and emotions and feelings.”

Melissa Greenwood is the education content director at SmartBrief.

If you believe you can make a difference and want some help getting started. Sign up for our February 23rd Pro-D Conference.

We have Will Richardson as our keynote speaker. He is a leader in educational change and will be sharing his thoughts and practices with you in his keynote and two intereactive workshops.

The Artistry of Teaching

It’s been a while since we had a “Sarason Moment.” And since I’m spending some of my 14 hours on a plane to South Africa rereading one of my most powerful influences, I’m thinking this is as good a time as any.

For the uninitiated, Seymour Sarason authored over 40 books, and is the person who penned the book that lies at the heart of much of our work here at Modern Learners, And What Do YOU Mean by Learning? (I’m sure many of you are sick of hearing me talk about it by now.) While not all of his works were focused on schools and reforming them, and while he was never a uber popular voice in the educonversation, I’ve been profoundly influenced by Sarason’s sometimes blunt yet sincere assessment of education and the many inconsistencies between the practices of the systems we bring kids into and the ways in which people learn.

So with that, here’s our mediation for today:

“There is one goal [of education] that, if not achieved, makes the achievement of all other goals very unlikely. That goal is to create those conditions that make students want to learn; not have to learn but want to learn more about self, others, and the world. The overarching purpose of schooling and its governance is to support that goal, i.e., to create and sustain contexts of productive learning supportive of the natural curiosity and wonder with which children start schooling.

Contexts for productive learning are no arcane mystery. They require that adults start with where the child is: his or her curiosities, questions, puzzlements. The artistry of teaching inheres in how to capitalize on that starting point so as to enlarge and support what the child wants to learn. That is to say, you seek to help the child forge connections between what he or she wants to know and what the child needs to learn. I say artistry because those connections cannot be forged by a fiat that requires the child to conform to a predetermined or calendar driven program. You can teach by the calendar, you cannot productively learn by the calendar. This is not permissiveness or a mindless indulgence of a child’s whims and fancies. It is a way of “hooking” the child, enlarging the child’s view in line with the maxim that the more you know the more you need to know.”

A couple of thoughts about this, and I would love to hear your thoughts below as well.

First, I don’t think most teachers see the “artistry” of their craft in these terms. I think for most, the artistry comes in trying to make something that kids don’t really have an inherent interest in learning palatable and, perhaps, engaging for them. I think back on my days as a high school English teacher when I was teaching “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. By and large, kids hated that text. It was the classic “Why are we reading this?” story. But I tried all sorts of (what I thought were) creative ways to make them want to learn it. Acting it out. Making it contemporary. Found poetry. More. And for some of them, I think it worked.

But it was a terrible struggle, because I knew in the end only a very few would a) ever read anything more by Edwards or his fellow 18th Century American writers, and b) remember the supposed significance of the work. They didn’t want to learn more, but they did, I think, appreciate my effort.

Second, the idea that we start with where the kids are and that our purpose is to build on their curiosities just is not how teachers are taught to teach nor what the system rewards. Yet we all know that the things we learn most deeply about are those things that make us curious to learn more.

This week, in another space, I wrote about the idiocy of Michigan legislators who have decided it’s a good idea to “retain” third graders who can’t pass a state mandated reading test. They have missed Sarason’s point that learning doesn’t happen on a consistent schedule or calendar. To suggest it does is folly. Yes, every child needs to be literate, but not necessarily at eight or nine years old. And the reality is that almost all of those kids that are going to be labelled as “failures” by the state will eventually learn to read…when they are ready.

If “productive learning” is “learning which engenders wanting to learn more,” then a really good place to start might be the things that kids already care about, the things kids want to learn. Our ability to bring them from there to the things they need to learn is, as Sarason says, the true art of teaching.

Five for Further Reading:

What The Screen Time Experts Do With Their Own Kids– Finding balance amid the myth and fantasy can be hard

Maybe It’s Time we Started Happiness Classes?– If social and emotional are important, then maybe happiness classes are a good idea.

What is your AQ?– and why it could be more important than IQ or EQ

The Complete Picture on Job Automation – Keep hearing stories about robots stealing jobs? Here’s a summary of every source to date from MIT Technology Review

The American Chromebook Crisis– This is what happens when leaders make poor buying decisions


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