What should we teach them?

I’ve been going through a bit of an evolution as a teacher over the last year or two. If we are honest about it, we all go through evolution from the first day we walk into a classroom until the day we walk out for the last time, but I’m talking about major shifts in the foundation of my pedagogical beliefs.

I’m going to confess some things here:

1. I was brought up in a sage-on-the-stage educational culture and I thrived in it. My individual learning style demanded that someone feed me information and I would ingest it and make it my own.

2. I hated group projects. All a group project meant to me (and still means to me as an adult) was that I was going to do all the work and everyone would get credit for it. This wasn’t, and isn’t, always because nobody else is willing, it is really because I often don’t want to give up control of a project. I’ve gotten better about this in recent years. If I’m in a group of able people, I will gladly let them all decide everyone’s roles and I will fulfill mine and nobody else’s.  But put me in a group of people that seem incapable, and I’m all about doing the entire project myself.

3. This is probably the most important confession/thing I’m willing to acknowledge: just because I don’t like group work and just because I prefer to have someone lecture to me in order to learn, doesn’t mean that I think everyone should be taught that way.

And that brings me to my difficulty with education today. The standardized nature of education today demands that we make a decision – which way are we going to teach students? What specific lessons are going to cover the all-important standards, no more, no less?

I was in a session today at Podstock 2011 where we discussed the future of professional development. When the presenter/facilitator asked us what professional development needs, it was very difficult to answer, because teachers are a diverse set of learners, just like our students are.

What is my point?

Maybe we need to quit teaching standards and instead teach how to learn.

Someone told me today that Kansas standards don’t include ANY history for elementary students. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Texas doesn’t require students to EVER learn about the dinosaurs.

If we can’t engage students with lessons that focus on things that interest them, what are we doing? If we constantly cater only to standards that some unseen set of people found to be important and we don’t try to speak to a student’s natural curiosity about the world around them, what message are we sending them?

I’ve always been a proponent of major education reform. I’ve often said that what we need to do is pretend like we never knew anything about teaching and start with square one again.

What would it look like?

In today’s connected society, I think it would look like a place where students gathered together based on an interest. They would explore their world in a knowledgeable way because in their early education, they would have learned how to find information, how to discern what was credible and what was not, and they would have learned how to apply that information to completely different situations.

In the process, they might even learn about dinosaurs and about history because they want to know about them. It saddens me to hear experts tell me that classroom teachers no longer have time for lessons that don’t specifically address a standard.

Look it up. The dictionary definition of standard means that it is something ordinary, expected, something someone with authority has come up with.

How can we ever expect to have Einsteins, Newtons, and Da Vinci’s come out of educations that make students adhere to ordinary?


One response to “What should we teach them?

  1. “Maybe we need to quit teaching standards and instead teach how to learn.” – This has been said over, and over again. Question is when are we going to do it? I have a decade of published editorials on this. Because as you say,
    the standardized nature of education today demands that we make a decision – which way are we going to teach students and What specific lessons are going to cover the all-important standards. It is time to let the computer deliver the “lecture” type content and let the teacher really be the facilitator to individualize projects. But, that won’t change until the accountability system goes beyond multiple-choice questions. The accountability testing and grading system need to be changed first. To get this changed requires everyone on their social networks to overload law makers with a demand for change. The standardized nature of education needs to go.

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