Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Do Not Believe Me

by Shelly Blake-Plock

To the best of my ability I will paraphrase what was a conversation I had not long ago with a district supervisor who asked me for data demonstrating how 21st century teaching methods produced measurable results.

I asked him what sort of pedagogy he was referring to. He responded, "21st century methods".

I told him that while I could not speak for the whole of 21st century thought on teaching and learning, I'd be happy to explain my findings based on my own experience. He thought this was reasonable.

"So where were your students in terms of testing when you started?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I mean, I never made that measurement."

"But then, how did you measure the progress your students made?"

"I asked them," I replied.

"What do you mean you asked them?"

"I asked them. We talked about their learning all of the time. And we talked about their background. And what it was like to be a student. And we talked about whether they felt like they could tell when they really learned something or not. Real phenomenological stuff. And we tried different things to help us learn better in light of these conversations. Sometimes I came up with these ideas, sometimes the kids came up with the ideas. Sometimes things seemed to work, sometimes they didn't. Sometimes things we'd thought worked turned out later to not have worked so well. And sometimes things which in the moment we thought were useless turned out being rather helpful."

"But how do you measure whether or not those things work?"

"Well, only by indirect means. In other words, by thinking about the value and relevance of exploration and inquiry to our community of learners rather than try to adhere to any objective of measurement defined by something out there that ostensibly defines an ideal of learning that applies to everyone all at the same time."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that if the sight of a mountain compels you to climb it, it really doesn't matter how many feet tall it is."

We've spoken of education for so long as though it is representative of an objective academic truth that we've missed the fact that for the majority of human history it was a matter of survival. A matter of love. A matter of inspiration and compulsion. As often a matter of the irrational as the rational.

The best advice I can give to anyone who reads this blog is to not believe any of it; rather, if you want to see if social tech and inquiry based education works -- and whether you will get results you can measure in one way or another -- just try some of the things we've talked about and debated over the last nearly three years. Even better, just get into the mindset of the debate -- whether you agree with me or not. Try things out. Maybe they'll work for you, maybe not; hopefully, one way or the other, it will inspire you to consider that there may not be any objectively "best" practices, only your communities' own best findings in any practice. Of course, within the context of social tech, this may mean something much more than what at first it may appear to mean.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Do Not Believe Me


  1. Inspiration posting! the idea that people even talk about what works and does not work in education is too often missed. Rather than blaming the Government or Ministry of Education, as though they are standing in the back of the class telling you what to do, for students not being "smart enough" or "monumentally behind", why not have conversations about strategies that you and your colleagues are using to consider what works well, what needs tweaking, or what needs dumping. I currently have 20 teachers working together in 4 teams trying to help each other move beyond simple knowledge delivery and acquisition and move towards critical thinking by the students. The process is easier for some than others, but for those who are a bit rigid, the process of such a paradigm shift is proving beneficial. Thanks for reminding us to talk about ideas and not simply believe things just because.

  2. What a dilemma, whether to ask the students/learners if something is working or not, & why. I loved the philosophy of your premise, that you found out by simply asking, experimenting, learning along the way. That's what we do at my school, and it encompasses much choice for each individual with the teacher running right along beside the student.

  3. "...there may not be any objectively "best" practices, only your communities' own best findings in any practice"

    I would add that sharing findings of student achievement across communities help teachers, students, admins., parents, etc. gain perspective in what works and what doesn't. This type of transparent communication will help address the problem of grade inflation. Studies show that GPAs are rising while SAT scores remain the virtually the same, and that grading practices that reflect student achievement differ across schools (Educational Leadership, 2011, p.8). Educational stakeholders need to reach a consensus on the evidence necessary to make sound inferences on student achievement. I would argue that this can only happen if schools openly share both successes and failures in an ongoing basis.

  4. I once read in a book (I am a librarian) that Genghis Kahn learned all the skills he needed as a child. He learned how to hunt and plan and survive. Childhood was preparation for adult survival. Thank you for reminding us what is the purpose of education.

  5. My favorite line - "we've missed the fact that for the majority of human history it was a matter of survival. A matter of love. A matter of inspiration and compulsion. As often a matter of the irrational as the rational."

    I've been frequently reminded of this the last few weeks as I recover from data kool aid hangover I'm experiencing while working on my Masters of School Administration. It's amazing how easy it is to forget.


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