Sunday, November 1, 2015

Children don’t change but Education MUST!

Every year as I get to know my students better, I recognize very similar traits from students from the past years. Kids like to learn and if they don’t then there’s something preventing them from doing so. When I hear rumblings about children being lazy it really irks me as I totally disagree – students are not lazy; they are either not being empowered and challenged or there is something preventing them from being active learners. 

 My 6th Grade Students - this year

I remember way back at the beginning of my career, having children in my class who had major trouble reading and writing even at the basic level. With such huge classes (over 30 students) it was difficult to help them in individual ways and to be honest; I didn’t know how to help them. Teaching college had not prepared me for anything outside of the norm... as if all kids were “the norm.”  Students with challenges were left to stumble their way through work sheets, text books and tests, with varying degrees of success and usually feeling inadequate, hating school and generally feeling horrible about themselves.                
                                                                                                                          My 6th grade students - this year

Has education provided support, help, advise, for these children that need something different? I guess that in some ways there have been improvements. Accommodations are made as children are tested and diagnosed with a number of learning problems, but do we really help children feel better about themselves? I wish I could get in touch with those learning challenged kids of the past. Where are they now and what life decisions have they made? Could I have made school easier and more fun for them? If only I knew then what I know now!

I don’t think I ever really conformed to the tests, textbooks and worksheets required at any time during those first years. Group work became my new solution and I spent much of my time creating laminated work cards for each group, where children could choose from a variety of tasks. At least students could complete the work in their own time, talk to members of their group and have some choices, and I had time to spend with each cluster. There were also wonderful sewing classes, woodworking, cooking and other weekly active activities, but those seem to have disappeared over the years.

My first PBL experience many years ago in Scotland. We studied fairy tales, chose Snow White and designed, created and built this float, including costumes for Gala Day. These students were problem solvers, creators and makers.

Isn’t it strange that the Education system in place today hasn’t really changed since the 1940’s yet look how our world has changed! Gone are the days when everyone had to memorize all the information needed for their cubicle jobs, working solo doesn’t seems to be the norm any more and people tend not to settle for one career or work for one company for life. The walls and borders have come down and the world today seems much smaller, as we we connect live through the many devices, tools and programs available. So why have tests become the most important part of educating in education today and why is it not changing? 

Alfie Khon states in his book, The Case Against Standardized TestingStandardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. . . . They are not a force of nature but a force of politics-and political decisions that can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed."  

Another innovative educator, Bill Boyd recently wrote this interesting article “Still Raising the Scores, Still Ruining the Schools

I loved when I found, private, progressive schools in the USA. At last, I could teach the way it came natural to me. I loved making choices about curriculum, sharing my passions with my students and learning about their passions. Children called teachers by their first names and I could build relationships with each student with the small class sizes. There were no more standardized tests to give, no more grades and lots of hands on activities and fun collaborative projects. . 

I have really enjoyed changing my teaching style, especially during the last ten years or so. I have learned so much from my PLN (from Twitter), PDS colleagues, global connections, students and parents. Technology has made teaching so much more transparent and powerful in so many ways.  I have been able to implement a much more student centered classroom, with student led teaching, student decision-making, technology integration and global collaboration with many students and experts from around the world. My job has become more of a coach and facilitator than the teacher who was expected to know everything about everything. I know this way of teaching is slowly emerging in schools around the world, but not quickly enough. The results are that students enjoy coming to school to learn and feel they have a voice in their own learning, curation and creating.  If we value education, we must prepare our young people to be global citizens, problem finders, creators, and life long learners in this ever-changing new world.

My students over the years have not changed, but education MUST!