It has occurred to me that we are in the midst of a huge change in educational philosophy and don’t even realize it. There has been lots of discussions, blogs and tweets regarding educational systems changing from the “industrial age” format to the new technology integrated type of education. The problem or disconnect is really quite humorous if one steps back and looks at the “big picture”. I was amused by conversation today about the start of online learning in our district and how do we offer this type of learning in our district. The amusing disconnect was in the subtle wording in the discussion. There was discussion about assessments, about hours of time online, about grading and grade levels and about the ever present standardized tests as measures of achievement. Aren’t all of those things from the industrial age version of education? In other words, the idea that if you are a specific age, you must take specific classes and pass them according to specific criteria created to meet other set specifications. There is still a misunderstanding of the anything, anytime, anywhere type of education.
How in the world should I know at this point what a 6 or 7 year old should know when he/she graduates? I have no idea what skills will be useful to them in their adulthood (and neither does anyone else) beyond being able to communicate, create, critically think, etc… and all the other buzz words currently associated with “21st Century” skills. (a term I hate, by the way, because most people using the term, don’t stop to think what the term means, never mind that we are 10% done with the 21st Century!).
Please do not misunderstand what I am getting at. I don’t think education should be an unstructured, mishmash of activities and social-networking without goals, meaningful purpose and objectives. What I find funny is that we are still trying to teach the same things from the 1950′s, in the same way as the 1950′s – only with new tools. I saw a picture of a 1950′s elementary classroom (black and white of course) and with the exception of the blackboard, and the clothing styles, I don’t think anyone could tell a difference from today’s classrooms. Most of today’s classrooms are teacher-led, information-fed and regimented to fulfill some curricular obligation that few have stopped to question whether is relevant in the future.
Here is an example of what I am trying to say: Our district, like many others, is going through huge financial crisis and the forecast is for things to be worse before better. One of the by-products of this is something we call “combo-classes”. These are classes that combine 2 grade levels into one classroom. The reality is that true multi-age teaching and learning is really a good 21st century type of instruction, in my humble opinion. The problem is combo-classrooms are not the same thing as multi-age classrooms. Combo-classes are the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” of today’s education. If we were to truly look at a new way of grouping students together, combining different age groups would be a good thing. To put a teacher in a room with 2 separate grade level curricular expectations is not the same thing. Actually, referring to grade level curriculum is also out-dated.
Terms I find humorous – or would be if we weren’t talking about something as serious as preparing today’s students for their future:
closing the achievement gap – the gap according to what measurement? Achievement of what???? some specified score on a test or true learning?
grade-level – why should children be grouped by birthdates?
research-based - much of what could be valuable is outdated by the time someone actually collects research data about it’s effectiveness. Does that mean we shouldn’t use common sense and try new things without the research?
data-driven instruction – instruction is being forced to be driven by data but the question is….what is valuable and relevant data? We tend to collect data, sometimes on what is easy to measure rather than what we really want to know and measure.
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