David Warlick's newest rant is about flat classrooms. He says....
I grew up believing that when I became an adult, the system would have adequately and appropriately prepared me for my adulthood and all of its responsibilities. I believed that there was a body of knowledge that would be taught to me, and after that moment, I would be ready to be an adult. I’m still waiting
Waiting learners are not what we should be cultivating in our classroom. Waiting learners have no energy to drive the learning engine. Waiting learners are not fearless learners.
A couple of thoughts here.... I too remember having these thoughts. My circumstance put me in the category most teachers would call "at-risk" but I showed up everyday. The teachers seemed to assume I didnt want to learn-- but I really did. I mean I wasnt against learning. I didnt feel rebellious about it. I certainly never thought about quitting school. I was waiting to see how the game was played. I would come to class and do what they said. It is difficult to be an 'orange tree in a desert' so homework wasnt my thing. But I could make Bs and some As and Cs - without doing it. I was popular enough with the other students and really thought I was doing OK.
Then came graduation. I remember sitting in commencement and students were getting recognized for scholarships. I asked the kid next to me... what's a scholarship? It was at that moment I realized what David has said above. I had been a waiting learner. I had been waiting for teachers to show me the way. If I made a bad grade I didnt think-- oh wow -- she isnt a good teacher. I thought -- dang I must really not be good at this. I had never seen a counselor that I remember. No one ever mentioned college. However, I never realized what this meant. I was just there waiting to get up to bat! Thank goodness I was a fearless learner who succeeded after school in spite of my teachers keeping me on the bench through out high school.
Fast forward to today...David talks about Flat Classrooms. Now I have to say, while I get the metaphor (The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman) I really dont think it spins right. Flat-- has always meant boring to me, and David's use of the term is the opposite of that. But for the sake of this post-- I'll go with it. However, at risk of losing the spirit of David's post, I have to speak out on behalf of teachers here for a minute. David talks about how schools have lost the ability to nurture the student's creativity. Here is what David says...
So how do we respect student’s curiosity — in today’s classroom? Very difficult, when nearly every day is spent trying to cover the state standards. What I woke up this morning thinking about, was an annual assignment that all of my students would receive. They are tasked with delivering a presentation to the class on a topic that I, as the teacher, and at least five other students agree would be of interest and value to the class. Then the student would set about, on their own time, conducting the research, planing the presentation, and constructing the audio/visual elements that they will need. Each student project will have a student advisory committee who will continuously evaluate their preparations, and when all members of the committee have agreed (based on a either a standard or customized rubric) that the project is ready, then the student will deliver the presentation to the class.
This is where this post sort of goes "flat" for me. I have been teaching a long time. I have many brilliant, creative friends that are teachers. And they do what is described above and much more!
They do create meaningful, engaging lessons. The use the socratic method, differentiate, and let students collaborate to create products that prove mastery of the objectives they are trying to cover. And they have been doing this for years!
The assignment related to a presentation the students created to show mastery of the objectives for a unit of study we were doing.
Second grade students created their version of Michelangelo's Sistine chapel during a study of the Renaissance. They laid on the ground and taped their tile to the bottom of their desk and painted while lying flat on their backs.
This was taken in a multi-age classroom I taught. We were studying oceans of the world. We built a small community within the classroom;all centers based. Each student chose a career from which they were given a paycheck. They would cash the check at the bank, use their money to buy stamps at the post office and such. (All assignments had to be mailed to me via the classroom post office)... this pic is from the students who ran the local (classroom) seafood restaurant. The manager of the restaurant had prospective employees fill out applications to work there. They created the menus, took orders, helped cook the food, researched receipies, etc.. the customers had to read menus, pay for their meal and get the correct change, and here they were learning manners. Everything we did was state standard-driven, yet authentic and student-centered.
Project-based, problem-based learning has been around a long time. Using Inquiry to teach has been a part of creative teachers vocabulary since the 70s--even in the light of a high stakes testing environment. Teachers who were willing to work hard have proven you can have kids who are being nurtured to be innovative, creative and score high on standardized tests.
However-- where I think David's post starts to ring truer for me is in terms of digital or media literacy, or what he terms contemporary literacy. Typically we have used one-way mediums (books, TV, paintings, music) to inspire our students and relied on "us" the teacher to be the 2-way medium. Where as today, we have this fantastic resource -- the Internet and other digital tools that is by design 2-way and honors all learning styles and intelligences. It provides access to experts, ready made inquiry-driven curriculum, deep reflection and mastery of content all while collaborating within and without the classroom walls. Students can be more in control of their learning than ever before. The only problem is time. Teachers trying to fit this methodology, this medium, on top of business as usual-- and it just doesnt work. The hard part-- is getting teachers to realize by redesigning themselves-- by being creative, adaptive experts they will help prepare students for what David describes as...
the leverage point for unleashing the energy of curiosity and self-directed learning, is our children’s intrinsic need to communicate and influence. If we can make classroom learning, more of a conversation between student and teacher, learner and curriculum, classroom and the world, etc. — then perhaps we’ll have our perpetual learning engine.