Everything about mainstream education in the United States works against innovation in our classrooms, discouraging our teachers and impairing the futures of our youth. As we shall soon see, our educrats' compulsion to assess every aspect of school, and hold our teachers accountable, will - unless reversed - be our nation's downfall.
Are teachers employed to teach students or help students learn?
That question is posed in Part III of Tony Wagner's and Ted Dintersmith's book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation.
Enough studies have been conducted, and common sense tells me that we should know some of this stuff already. Rather than teach memorized content through lecture, shouldn't teachers try developing, in their students, the skills bulleted in the list at right?
We can't do that if all we do is assign the reading of a book and the answering of the questions at the end of each chapter. We also can't do that with students taking notes while the teacher drones on and on in a lecture.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I enjoy giving a good lecture. Strangely, I also enjoy listening to a good lecture. There are times I can take notes and other times when I just want to listen. Thankfully, I have the uncommon ability to listen to a well-crafted lecture without taking many notes.
Many of the concepts presented in Most Likely to Succeed confirm the things I have been writing and thinking for years. In my own Teaching Philosophy, I put it like this:
It is not a teacher’s job to make learning so fun that students don’t realize they’re learning. I have heard myself say this, only to quickly retract it because it is blatantly untrue. Students must feel the learning process in order to appreciate it. To promote lifelong learning in ourselves, we must experience a collaborative struggle with material and process. We feel the exultation of success only when we exert ourselves in such a fashion. It’s similar to mountain climbing. The view from the peak is a by-product of effort;the real reward is the feeling that results from achieving a difficult climb.
Kites need restraint in order to fly; without string, a kite falls to the ground.
The impeded stream is the one that sings*; with no rocks or diversions, a stream loses its beauty.
If I want students to fly and sing [See right.], I do not remove the rocks and string. I do not hand my students information freely; together, they wrestle with the material and process of learning, discover innovative ways of thinking, and find unexpected solutions. I do not assess students using rote questions; instead they plan procedures, synthesize knowledge, and explain their reasoning. I refuse to treat students like helpless infants; instead we have honest, respectful discussions, unimpeded by textbooks and time restrictions. It’s real, relevant, and captivatingly interesting. Students appreciate creative efforts to make education mean more than school. They aren’t preparing for future classes; they are preparing for life. Too often, students read, memorize, and forget; in our classroom, students gather information, manipulate data, and construct towers, bridges, and systems to serve future communities.