Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Get Real

An anonymous reader commented recently on my earlier post '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020':
OMG - The one weak link in this person's position is that they have no understanding of human nature.

1. No desks - until Jimmy cheats or copies off the others in the group.
2. Language labs - People have been talking different langauages for thousands of years. I suspect that won't end any time soon.
3. Computers - size and location doesn't matter. Until they can be hid inside a student's personal space.
4. Homework - Homework is for practice. AND kids lack the self-discipline to do otherwise. That's why they are kids.
5. Portfolios - Should go hand in hand with standardized tests. Do you think smart kids really fail these tests?
6. Tech and Differentiation - Technology alone does not differentiate instruction - people do.
7. Wikipedia - What ever happened to research? Do you think Harvard lets their students use Wikipedia. Get real.
8. Paperbacks - who is going to buy each kid an ipad?
9. Bio scan - just plain scary.
10. Lockers - Hello! Kids don't and many won't carry books. Again, who is going to pay for the ipads?
12. Centralized schools - Are you kidding? Does anyone understand the immaturity of teens AND many of their parents?

I could go on and on...

Now it could be that the commenter is right and I just have very little understanding of human nature. But I'll at least try to address each of his or her points.

1. Desks -- especially desks in long straight rows -- are not only detrimentally conditioning and hierarchical, but they breed an "us vs. them" mentality between students and teachers. As far as cheating goes, I wouldn't blame that on seating arrangements; I'd suggest it has more to do with assessments that are so removed from individual and personalized learning that they are ripe for standardized cheating.

2. Language Labs -- I'm not talking about getting rid of foreign language study, I'm talking about getting rid of outdated language labs. Any kid with an iPod Touch and wi-fi can learn a foreign language.

3. Computers -- I actually don't understand the comment here. But the gist of the original post was that computing devices are going to change in ways we can't expect -- therefore we can't expect what we think of when we think of a computer today to be necessarily the same thing as what a computer will be tomorrow.

4. I really don't know exactly what homework is for. I've been frustrated with myself over this issue, as I tend to think that I give too much homework (generally in the form of writing, which of course in and of itself isn't a bad thing; but I often have difficulty striking a balance). The key is in having kids do things outside of class that will complement or drive things within class; problem is that too often homework not only fails to do this, but in fact instills bad habits and resentment towards school in general. As the school-day itself is gradually redefined over the course of the next decade, I do think however that our concept of what exactly homework is will change.

5. Yes. Smart kids perform poorly on standardized tests all the time.

6. Tech and Differentiation: Agreed. But social tech that allows for individualized instruction -- like using Google Wave to track individual contributions to group work -- are of such an amazing benefit. Takes a lot of the guess work out of trying to figure out who understands what at any given time. I do stand by what I suggested in the initial post, as well: the teacher who in ten year's time can't figure out how to differentiate instruction will be the teacher looking for a new career.

7. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Would you rather we not let students read an encyclopedia? As far as "research" goes, no encyclopedia has ever been primary source material for a thesis. That is unless your thesis is about the encyclopedia. You teach kids to back up an academic argument with primary sources and direct observation; but that doesn't mean you don't "let" students read an encyclopedia. As for Harvard students: they read Wikipedia all the time; many of them edit it, as well (just like millions of other people).

8. As for paperbacks, I don't think this will be as "school-driven" as it is "culture-driven". With the advent of really nice e-bookreaders, I could see the majority of the paperback market going the way of cassettes and CDs. As for the allocation of resources, we already spend much more on textbooks over the course of a student's schooling than we would on wi-fi based e-readers.

9. We've been using optional fingerprint scans in our school for laptop access since back when Vista came out. Not that scary.

10. Lockers: see #8.

11. ?

12. The conversion to hybrid school models mixing face-to-face learning with online and mobile learning is already happening. I see no reason to think that might slow down over the next ten years and I see no reason given the budget shortfalls so many districts and archdioceses have found themselves in that the larger centralized bureaucratic model would remain desired.

Thanks for your comments. I hope you understand that I take them very seriously and I welcome the opportunity to debate. And believe me, as a teacher and a parent of three kids, I know exactly what it means to "get real"; it's what I try to do in the classroom, in parenthood, and on this blog everyday.


  1. Homework is exactly that - work that one HAS to do at home. Home learning is what a student will do naturally if a school doesn't try and trick them into believing learning is a chore.

    I don't assign homework. I do, however, provide opportunities for learning to extend beyond the classroom.

    I think I have a good understanding of human nature, but maybe anonymous is right and we're both screwed up for not believing in a factory-style view of human nature.

  2. I teach theatre, so my class is already set up differently than the traditional classroom. I know that I have found more and more of my students using laptops for assignments and cell phones for taking notes. I hope that physical scripts never go away, but that could be because I just like the feel of a book in my hand. I see both points - I have a feeling only time will tell!

  3. I have to agree with you I removed desks from my room and replaced them with couches and bean bags and found productivity and grade rose. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I think this really applies to education.

  4. If you remove lockers from the school, where will students store their coats, lunches, video cameras, projects, etc.?

  5. @Jeremy

    I don't know. Where do you keep your stuff?

    The majority of what I see students in high school going to lockers for is books. So go 1:1 with digital books, get rid of the lockers and turn those surfaces into a place for murals and public announcements (and surface computing), and give the kids secure space in homerooms or the like to hang coats.

    That's just a guess.


  6. @ Shelly

    It's interesting that with lockers you see education moving toward what elementary classes at most of the schools I've been at do. Though you suggest a "secure" place in the homeroom.. like a locker?

    As for homework... for most students learning is most effective when it is repeated or reinforced within, say 6 hours. At home. Maybe this is where we will begin to see the traditional classroom breaking down. When learning is something you do at home, nothing is really "homework."

    Different Anonymous.

  7. @Diff Anon,

    a) I like the elementary school model.

    b) "for most students learning is most effective when it is repeated or reinforced within, say 6 hours." -- Do you have any data to support that?

    Thanks for the coments; looking forward to hearing back,


  8. Ha! One morning I burned my hand on the stove. Unfortunately I was a school for 7 hours so I had to come home and burn it again twice so I would remember not to do it again.

    Sorry to all you anonymous folks, I make myself laugh. But isn't it really about making a connection for something to stick?

  9. I truly admire those of you who are able to make meaningful connections to everything you were ever taught, all on your own. Many of us need the artificial structure of "homework" to make those connections.

    I am a band and music teacher at two K-12 Schools. I teach almost all grade levels, and my previous comment did not show that I mostly agree that moving towards a more "elementary-ish" model would benefit our students. And I also dream of a day when tablets are sturdy enough that the only thing students would put in lockers is outdoor clothing (I also teach in Saskatchewan, where temperatures get cold in the winter.)

    But I also say that as a Band teacher, I can tell which students practice at home, and which don't. There is no doubt in my mind that for repetitive tasks, homework is beneficial to students. (Though perhaps boring.) And while there are now ways to make it more fun and interesting, such as SmartMusic, it is still homework.

    Doug (aka Diff Anon)


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