Checklist for learning

Published by Lori Pickert on December 2, 2008 at 07:32 PM

I once worked with a school that told me they couldn’t do projects (even though they wanted to).

Why? Because they had to meet the state standards. And to do that, they had to teach each standard one by one, checking them off a big list.

I pointed out that we taught to the state standards. They were astounded. How ever could this be? We followed the children’s interests hither and yon.

We crossed off each standard as we covered it, then we looked at what was left over and either looked for opportunities to incorporate that material meaningfully or simply taught it separately.

The administrator said to me, dubiously, “Well … but we don’t have a sheet for that.”

It’s not a matter of needing a new checklist; it’s only a matter of allowing people to use that checklist in a flexible way.

The only real difference is allowing teachers to check off items not in order. Don’t plan ahead; plan along.

Flexibility is a skill. If we want to encourage it in our children, we should probably learn to utilize it ourselves.


Comment by JoVE on December 3, 2008 at 02:49 PM

Duh. Sometimes it is really hard to be patient with people who can't see that you can check off items on a list in whatever order you like.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 3, 2008 at 03:43 PM

JoVE, i imagine you’re very familiar with this, but if we train people to follow instructions very, very closely, then we leave them dependent on those instructions. teaching teachers to teach is all about formulas, checklists, red tape, forms, forms, forms...

even at home, people cling to curricula thinking if they just follow the recipe exactly they’ll bake up a well-educated kid...

Comment by Cristina on December 3, 2008 at 04:43 PM

I love visiting your blog, it's a breath of fresh air!
And I say that with ten years of homeschooling under my belt!
Our area has become so high stakes test and standards oriented it makes me sad. Partly because I always need to be concerned that they will insist on more testing for homeschoolers, and partly because I see the results of hyper-focusing. We've attended events with school groups where the kids only paid attention enough to get the information required by their teacher and nothing more. There seems to be a loss of desire to learn for the love of it.

I'm glad you are enjoying the reprints. Hopefully I can post some new comics on Monday.

Peace and Laughter

Comment by Melanie on December 3, 2008 at 06:05 PM

For crying out loud. I used those standards sheets the first few years of homeschooling exactly how you described, and there is absolutely no reason why those in a traditional classroom couldn't do the same the thing.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Your site is a wonderful resource.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 3, 2008 at 10:09 PM

thank you, cristina!

i have seen the exact same thing you describe. there was an editorial written a few years ago in the chicago tribune by an educational consultant who described high school students who just wanted to know what they needed to do so they could do it -- no interest at all, just a sense of slogging through something to get to the end. really sad.

i’m loving the reprints! :^) i always see something familiar in your strip, and of course, we are biiiig comics fans. ;^)

thank you, melanie -- re: standards sheets, the problem for teachers is .. it’s a layered system, where each layer is dictating what must be done in the layer beneath .. the teachers don’t have the freedom to break free and do it a different way. they simply have to do it as they are ordered to do it. teachers in different classrooms required to teach the exact same material in the exact same way on the exact same day .. in the name of giving a fair and equal (and measurable, assessable) education to all.

you are right that there is absolutely no reason why they can’t do it a *slightly* different way, but there sure is resistance!

thanks for dropping by. :^)

Comment by Sara on December 3, 2008 at 11:44 PM

I think kids are better at flexibility than the adults (myself included). Go with the flow!

Thank you for your words Lori!


Comment by Kerry on December 4, 2008 at 12:17 AM

When I was teaching pre-k, we actually had an administrator suggest checking off standards like that - I loved the idea and adopted it, but my co-worker could NOT handle doing things out of order like that. The fear was always - what if we never get to it? Well, I think we all know that NO teacher gets to everything on the list anyway!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 12:51 AM

thank you, sara :^)

kerry, you’re right, i shouldn’t be just nagging on the administrators. i’m usually careful to say that in some cases it’s the admins who want change and the teachers who resist; in other cases the admins *and* teachers are together, but the parents resist!

i know a lot of teachers like your ex co-worker!

and you are right, no one does get to everything, or at least not everything is covered in the same way .. but goodness, we can’t admit that!! :^P

Comment by Kat on December 4, 2008 at 03:04 AM

I'm going to ask Amie's preschool and ask about those standards! Do the private preschools also have them? I'm curious as to how they deal with them. They seem to let Amie do whatever she wants, though, while facilitating learning (it's a Montessori school, a good one I'm told). On days when she wants to play, they seem to let her, or so I gather from her extremely terse reports about her school day...

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 03:20 AM

kat, it depends on where you live and your particular school. and montessori is not regulated; any school can say they are montessori -- not that i’m dissing your school. ;^)

the important thing for preK is the quality of the program and whether it is developmentally appropriate ..

i like alfie kohn’s “what to look for in a classroom”:

Comment by se7en on December 4, 2008 at 05:42 AM

Great post... who would have thought: fit the list to the kid and you have a unique individual - or you could fit the kid to the list and have - well a couple of clones!!!

Comment by Ali on December 4, 2008 at 07:06 AM

as far as I understand our preschools in England are going to soon be having a series of checklists that even the youngest children have to conform to. This is one of the biggest reasons why we are homeschooling.

Comment by Kat on December 4, 2008 at 01:52 PM

Hi Lori,
thank you for that page. I think our school scores high on all points, except for the clutter: everything is so neatly arranged in trays... I think Amie makes up for it though, at home! Sigh.
I'm happy to report we did our homework. DH is an alumnus and his family was very invested in Montessori schools in Calcutta. At this school all the teachers are certified by the Association Montessori Internationale and the American Montessori Society. The director, who also teaches, worked with Mario Montessori... You can imagine, we couldn't believe our luck, that it was just around the corner and that they had space - especially since our preschool-woes in the town we moved from.
But I'll ask about those standards...

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 02:38 PM

se7en, one of the bits of magic of doing project work with a large group is that any knowledge gained by any *one* child transmits to all the other children .. so really, when you are done, they have _shared_ and _helped each other_ to being more or less at the same place.

that is an authentic way to help children achieve a similar outcome -- letting them do their own work and then *share* it with each other.

then there is the forced way -- set up a checklist and march the children together through each step. which, as you point out, doesn’t respect the children’s differences or allow them to come out the other side still individuals, valued for their particular strengths and talents.

it also misses the important lesson that within any part of ife is enormous variety .. instead of using education as a door flung open to a wide world, we turn it into a specimen tray holding a few dissected bits. and everyone has to look at the same bits, talk about the same bits...

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 02:53 PM

ali, nonconforming is a great reason to home education. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 02:55 PM

kat, yes, montessori classrooms aren’t known for their clutter!

Comment by Terra on December 4, 2008 at 03:11 PM

I know many professors across several different fields and the general feeling, compiled from many experiences, is that education majors are good students but far from great students. They want simple answers to simple questions, not complex discussions of complicated issues. Let me say clearly that this is NOT all teachers; some are very good, but I am speaking about the majority of recent ed. majors. I'm wondering if there is something about the personality of people who tend to become education majors that also sees things more simply or if the education major at most universities is so geared toward fill-in-the-blank that complexity and flexibility is quickly pushed out of the way. Standards testing and bureaucracy once they are full teachers certainly makes it hard for them to begin to become flexible. Could there be something in a person's personality or training that makes it much, much harder for them to be flexible in their instruction and complex in their understanding?
Thanks, but the way, for your blog. I love it!

Comment by Kathy on December 4, 2008 at 04:33 PM

Hi Lori,

I sadly agree with you - I have seen it here in the newspapers. I'm amazed at how one school keeps replacing the principal because they can't keep up with the state standards. The problem with that is you have kids in the hallways siding with why the latest principal should stay or go and the last principal should stay gone or come back. This was in the paper. Disturbing

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 09:36 PM

terra, thank you.

i eventually arrived at this conclusion .. the majority of students drawn to education are attracted because they enjoyed the experience of school. there are dynamic personalities who want to bring change and improve on what’s there, but there are far more who are complacent.

and who are the students who were pleased with their experiences at school? generally those who were well served by it. and since public school is geared to teach toward the middle, those students are the ones who are most satisfied with their experience.

i also don’t want to paint all teachers, or all education majors, with the same brush — there are intelligent, dynamic, impassioned people who want nothing more than to excel at bringing their students the best-possible learning experience. alas, however, not only are they few and far between, but they are fighting against the inertia of the system.

if we don’t educate children to love a challenge, embrace hard work, yearn toward something better, and above all if they aren’t used to critical thinking and problem solving, how can we produce adults who are eager to improve the system and prepared for the hard work necessary to get the job done?

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 09:37 PM

kathy, interesting message they are sending the kids when they keep replacing the principal.

Comment by Terra on December 5, 2008 at 04:31 AM

Wonderful insight, Lori. You are exactly right.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 5, 2008 at 05:37 AM

thank you, terra :^)

Comment by Alex on December 7, 2008 at 10:42 AM

Yes! I've just come from a hugely frustrating practicum experience (I'm doing my teacher training) with a host teacher who insisted on teaching lock-step and literally by-the-book. She insisted that I had to teach each page from the prescribed math textbook in the order they appeared, it didn't matter if some of the pages repeated needlessly or diverged on tangents, or rushed through areas the kids hadn't grasped fully - each page in that damn workbook had to be done. It had me in tears a few times.

This is not in line with what my reading and learning tells me works - it doesn't value individuals, or engage the kids, or work at their level. I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall a lot of the time, but because I hadn't read enough books and articles (like yours, here today) at the time, I couldn't clearly articulate to her why I felt it was so *wrong*. I'll be better prepared next time though with lots of evidence and ideas and hopefully a more assertive approach.

It's hard though, when those who are above you in the school heirarchy are telling you to do it one way, and your heart tells you there is a better way if you could only get them to listen!

Your blog, and others like it are such a breath of fresh air when I'm feeling despondent about if I will ever be able to make a difference.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2008 at 03:53 PM

it also doesn’t honor *you*, the teacher — it says your intelligence? not needed. creativity? not needed. passion? leave it at the door.

it *is* hard when the whole system is pushing one direction, to move in another direction, it’s incredibly hard! that’s why we need to support each other.

come back when you feel despondent. one fantastic thing about working in schools — you *really* make a difference in the lives of *so many* people. one great teacher affects 24+ students a year, and their families. multiply that times X years and you have *really* achieved something.

keep fighting the good fight!

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