Equal players

Published by Lori Pickert on August 18, 2011 at 01:43 PM

[H]ome-schoolersoutperform traditional students across the spectrum. The National Home Education Research Institute found that, on a standardized reading test, home school students perform at the 87th percentile while formal school students perform at the 50th percentile. What’s more, the gap remains roughly the same despite parents’ education level, the amount of money spent on education or minority status — three factors that greatly influence the performance of traditional students. For example, both white and minority home school students performed at the 87th percentile on reading tests, while white public school students performed at the 61st percentile and minority public school students performed at the 49th percentile.

There haven’t been studies conducted about informal learning at the college level yet. But I imagine we would observe similar results showing that those with an informal education would perform better than those with a formal education. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer as to why informal learners do better, but I believe it’s because students outside the classroom are able to think more freely and encouraged to follow their passion instead of memorizing facts. The upshot is this: Don’t make a decision to stay or leave school based upon your background because research shows that we’re all equal players outside the classroom. — The Case Against College

What learning can be

Published by Lori Pickert on August 14, 2011 at 02:21 PM

As a parent right now, I would gladly give up a lot of the “knowing” that my kids are doing, a lot of the content that’s being crammed in their heads, in exchange for time spent on what learning can be at a time when they have 2 billion potential teachers at their fingertips. Do that, and they’ll find the content they need when they need it, but they’ll also then have a much better chance of carrying that seed of self-direction with them throughout their lives.Will Richardson

In a time of change

Published by Lori Pickert on August 13, 2011 at 12:34 AM

Are schools preparing students to invent their own jobs?

Bill Gates (who has called America’s high schools “broken, flawed and underfunded”) made a speech to our country’s governors this spring suggesting that certain college and university departments prepare kids for jobs and others don’t — and maybe we should do something about that.

“It’s my understanding that the Gates Foundation wants to prepare students for ‘work, life and citizenship,’ but Gates’s remarks today seem to shave off two-thirds of that vision, while emphasizing a view of work-related learning that is much too narrow and unsettlingly dated. His call to focus on specific fields and departments, rather than whole institutions, implies a sharp dividing line between ‘general education’ and ‘specific majors’ that is, in fact, a relic from before the Cold War.” — Carol Geary Schneider, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities

Educational pundits compared Gates’ comments with his long-time rival Steve Jobs’ statement when the iPad was unveiled:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”

Technology is not enough, says Steve. The humanities are important. Though maybe Bill wants universities to become job-training programs but still encourage kids to load up on liberal arts in their spare time. That’s unclear to me.

Pundits keep coming back to the same old statements about what students really need — the same things we champion on this blog.

[C]olleges and universities must prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. One of the highest in demand — cybersecurity — did not even exist a decade ago. Graduates must be lifelong learners improving their skills to match the next generation of jobs. — The Jobs of Tomorrow

Once in a career path, the more general skills of communication, organization and judgment become highly valued. As a result, liberal arts graduates frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation. A longitudinal study conducted several years ago by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that the wage differentials that existed between career-oriented majors and academically oriented majors were all but eliminated within 10 years after graduation. — Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on Higher Education and How to Prepare Students for Success

What’s needed most are a set of educational practices — whether in the context of the traditional liberal arts, a technical program, or something in between — that empower students to seek knowledge independently, to collaborate, follow their passions and to connect their knowledge with the real world. — When Classrooms Can’t Keep Pace

On the one hand, there’s a faction saying “21st-century skills” and “seek knowledge independently” (self-directed learners), but on the other hand there are people like Bill Gates (who is backing up his opinion with a lot of cash) saying we should be turning out workers.

It brings to mind this quote:

In a time of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. — Eric Hoffer


A misconception of what creativity is

Published by Lori Pickert on August 10, 2011 at 12:41 PM

I remember when I was running the national commission on creativity, education and the economy in the U.K., the Secretary of State there said, “We’re very committed to creativity in education but we’ve got to get literacy and numeracy right first.” And I said, this is just a basic misunderstanding. It’s like saying we’re going to bake a cake and if it works out, then we’ll put the eggs in. That’s not how it works. If you want people to be literate, you have to get them passionate about reading and that’s a creative job. To think of it as an afterthought or in conflict of the core purposes, is a misconception of what creativity is. Creative leaders get that. And if they don't they will.Principles of Creative Leadership

Irreparably broken … but hard to leave

Published by Lori Pickert on August 8, 2011 at 12:53 PM

I’ve had a number of parents tell me that as much as they truly believe the educational landscape is changing, it’s hard for them to sanction their own kids being a part of that change. “To some degree I lack the courage of my convictions … I’m developing very strong convictions that the existing system is fundamentally and probably irreparably broken, but I would not yet take my kids out of their school,” Albert Wenger at Union Square Ventures said. “It’s one thing to experiment by investing money in start-ups or reading books, and it’s another to experiment with your own children. — Anya Kamenetz, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, via Will Richardson

Is it any wonder they can’t “take charge of their own education” when that self-directed love of learning on their own was driven out of them by second grade, when no one has ever allowed them to or taught them how do that? — Will Richardson

I know that when I talk about my aspirations for my own kids, and I start going down the road that the traditional college degree is only one of many options for them, that they may be able to cobble together a more meaningful education (depending on what they want to do) through travel and apprenticeships and self-directed experiences and not end up in mountains of debt, most respond with all sorts of reasons why not going to college is a risk, “especially in this job market.” — Will Richardson

Invent, adapt, and reinvent

Published by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2011 at 01:39 PM

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said that when he graduated from college, he was able to go find a job, but that our children [are] going to have to invent a job. — Daring to Stumble on the Road to Discovery

[The fastest growing companies in the world] are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

[T]his is not your parents’ job market. — Thomas Friedman, The Start-Up of You

Will your kids be prepared to invent their own jobs?


To kill creativity, simply restrict freedom

Published by Lori Pickert on August 5, 2011 at 09:53 PM

If you want to kill creativity, then simply restrict employees’ freedom in how they reach their goals. Two common methods are by changing the goals too frequently or by implicitly communicating to your staff that new methods are not welcome. Employees will soon get the message and stop trying.6 Ways to Kill Creativity

Now, replace “employees” and “staff” with “children”...

A recipe for educational mediocrity

Published by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2011 at 09:21 PM

As someone who has spent the past fifteen years teaching writing to college freshmen and sophomores, I picked up this book expecting to disagree with it. I like my students. I’ve taught my share of dullards, but as a group, the young people in my classes are smart, hard-working, and willing to learn. But I came away from Academically Adrift with the unpleasant sense that its authors had put their fingers on an ugly truth: that we are not asking near enough of college students these days. This isn’t because the youth of today is any lazier or more debauched than their forebears or because my fellow profs are bunch of careerist bums, or even because the administrators are craven capitalists. The problem on the contemporary American college campus has little to do with bad people or bad faith and everything to do with a complex system of skewed incentives.

At the heart of all university funding is an economic disconnect: the people footing the bill, primarily parents and the federal government, have a strong interest in seeing students get the best education they can, but they’re not the ones picking the college the student will attend. For the most part, the students themselves make that call, and while some are burning for knowledge and will go to any length to get it, many more want the degree and are aware that some studying might be involved, but mostly they just want to spend four years creating memories that will last a lifetime. Add to this the fact that modern universities have become factories for all manner of societal goods, from cutting-edge scientific research to star wide receivers, that have nothing to do with teaching kids to think, and you have a recipe for educational mediocrity.

Why Isn’t Our Children Learning?



Published by Lori Pickert on February 10, 2011 at 10:41 PM

Holly Korbey’s son, Holden, was easy to spot in his kindergarten class — he was the one who actually looked kindergarten sized. “The other kids were just taller,” says his mother.

That’s because unlike his classmates, most of whom were six years old, Holden was only five — the traditional kindergarten age. But entering kindergarten at age six is becoming more and more common, say researchers. “My parents went to my son’s kindergarten and said, ‘The kids are so big! They look like they’re eight,’” says Korbey. 

Holding Kids Back from Kindergarten

Ancient topic, I know, but I came across this today and was amused. I thought — what better reaction to the push-down effect (turning Kindergarten into first grade, moving the K curriculum to preschool, and eliminating preschool altogether) than to send appropriate-age kids?

Hey, if preschool is now about desk work (horrifying but often true), then stay home an extra year to play house and finger paint. Since K is the now first grade, why not send actual first graders?

Sharing the power

Published by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 01:11 PM

[P]ower differences (inequalities) make education more difficult than it needs to be. Mr. Stafford’s excellent use of students correcting papers won’t work with some teachers. I used that technique throughout my career and I was told I was lazy (true), the kids couldn’t do it (untrue), and it would create discipline problems in the class (true unless the teacher creates a safe classroom and teaches the students how to do the corrections.)

The main reason it doesn’t work is when there is no trust between the teacher and students. There has to be a sense that if a student is angry about the correction that it can be handled civilly and fairly. This doesn’t happen unless the students are part of the planning before any correcting occurs.

When teachers are reluctant to share their power the students doing the correcting feel (and are) used. When students use and apply the rubrics in correcting others' papers it becomes a valid teaching technique! Negotiating and sharing power builds mutual trust and respect. When teachers try this method the students don’t believe them. They abuse their new powers and the teacher gets defensive and angry and returns to his power position. I tell students that I know some of them don’t trust me and it’ll take some time for me to prove I am willing to take the time to show them how this will improve their lives.

I took this technique as an example, but it is true of any of the complex relationships in school between any individuals or groups. Each needs the power to do the job with minimal interference from those with more power. However, when power is shared, then accountability for behavior goes with it.

— Robert Rose, Critical Thinking: Impossible in Schools?

If you’ve been reading the comments (and I know it’s a big job, but 80% of my blog is the comments), you know we’ve been talking about how some people view project-based learning as too child-centric, giving the child too much power. Elizabeth commented in the latest open thread:

My biggest concern with child-led learning is if it does foster a certain self-absorption in children. I have homeschooling friends who are critcial of this kind of learning because they think it teaches the child that the world revolves around them and caters to them. They think rote learning and 6 hours of desk learning teaches children virtues.

And part of my response:

I believe children embrace learning and become enthusiastic, passion-driven learners only when they see how it connects to themselves .. how it helps them connect with their interests and their purpose. What is education for, if not this? And the rote learning, six hours at a desk a day .. what is that kind of education for? Not, I think, connecting you with your deepest passions and your purpose.

It is a shared relationship, a negotiated curriculum.

That message — that learning is for the child — comes with work, responsibility, trial and error, experimentation, work. The message doesn’t erase the work — it just puts the work into its proper context. Why should a child put his all into something that he cares nothing about, that is designed to please someone else in some inexplicable way? Project learning says this is about you … then expects the child to give his all for something he cares deeply about.

I asked a question — why do so many adults think so little of children and their abilities? I hypothesize it’s because they think little of themselves and their own abilities and motives, and so they transfer those same negative beliefs onto children. If they thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoyed challenge, they would presumably see children the same way.

Many adults are unwilling — or afraid — to share the power. They are unwilling to do the work of helping children learn to be responsible for their share of a negotiated curriculum. In order to have a shared curriculum, the adult not only has to do their own work; they have to mentor their child to be self-directed. Many think this is just too much work. It’s so much easier to give children assignments instead.

But the less autonomy children have, the less they buy in. The less connected they are to what they’re learning, the less effort they’re willing to invest. They bide their time until the assignment is over, then they can go back to what they actually care about.

When you align learning with what a child already is interested in doing, what they’re already motivated to work hard on, then you are tapping into their true capabilities.

Once they discover I mean it ... and they have more real freedom, most accept their part of accountability. — ibid.

Freedom and accountability come hand in hand. The critics think that children in this type of learning environment will be catered to — missing the fact that they have shouldered real responsibility for their own learning in exchange for real freedom. The critics see only what the child is given — and fail to see what the child gives in return.

Rose goes on to say that an unwillingness to share power is why we can’t teach critical thinking in schools:

[T]he way our schools are structured with their hierarchical power base … punishes thinking that differs from the status quo. For that reason I repeat: we can teach the process and skills of clearer thinking, but we can’t teach them to think critically and apply those skills to the real worlds they live in. It goes against too many vested interests that fear their power will be diluted. — ibid.

Can we teach critical thinking? Grit? Creativity? Can we teach children to buckle down and work hard on something past the point where they’ve done enough to earn the grade they need?
What we can do is create a learning environment that allows a person to develop those qualities. If you don’t share the power — if you don’t align your learning life with what your child really cares about — then you aren’t fully engaging them as a learner, or as a person. If you don’t share the power, you’re teaching them how to get good grades, but you aren’t mentoring them to manage and direct their own learning.
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