The Big Four

By September 1, 2014Education

So we all know we need change. But this change demands creation not innovation.

It’s become increasingly obvious that everybody wants to be seen as creative and cool. It can almost reach a carnival atmosphere pitch with sideshows and awesome circus tents. And I have to admit, sometimes even I feel like one of those barkers trying to get people off the midway to step inside and see the show. So let’s make sure we know what we need to be looking for.

I get it. We’re all trying to help kids. I understand it’s “new”. I understand it’s “tech”. I hear personalized, individualized, project, digital and all other 21st century terms being thrown out there, printed in bold and placed on buildings as if we just created a new language. Honestly, some very creative and credible educators have been using those terms and doing those things for years. They were doing it when it wasn’t cool.

Suddenly everybody’s doing it and taking credit. That’s ok except for one thing. They didn’t build that train, they’re just a passenger. And I’ll be quick to tell you that I didn’t build that train. But the headlines of a newly discovered way of teaching kids is nothing new or discovered. It’s just buying the ticket and finding the seat on the train.

My fear is that the things we will begin to accept as new and innovative won’t address the things we need to change. Changing names, buying computers and kids sitting in a circle are not going to change anything.

We have to address what I call the Big Four. These are non-negotiable elements that define the major components of the traditional system of education that must be addressed if you are going to be responsive to today’s student.

The Big Four

If students cannot direct their process of learning related to time, it’s not creative, innovative, different or new. Students should be able to see their learning, set their goals daily and move forward within a reasonable framework of supervision and monitoring. Any element of a system that defines, confines or controls the pace diminishes and dampens the creative essence of the system. Be as tech as you want to be but putting technology in a confining timed system neutralizes any 21st century potential. Our systems, from campus level to state levels across our nation are timed and the new system has to confront this component. The timed pacing of learning is often the most frustrating element of school. To continue in a timed system means we don’t understand it isn’t necessary or we are not sure what to do with kids unless we control as much of their waking hours as possible.

Long ago we had distance learning. Good or bad, it took courage and demands our respect. However, the element of location means much more than virtual or online learning, which are highly regarded and can be as rigorous as any classroom. If a system is designed to only recognize or offer new content learning in one location (wherever the teacher is at the time), it isn’t a creative 21st century system. I don’t believe we have to expound upon the current and emerging opportunities for learning that eliminates the need for location-specific requirements. The brick and mortar is still valuable but what we do inside that building may have to change and open up new frontiers for education.

If a student is being taught, through direct lecture styles, only from a designated teacher in the classroom, the design is not creative. No educator admits to lecture teacher-driven instruction any longer. However, there is need for some of this in the teaching learning equation. The problem is that we now have access to teachers, professors, tutors and even digital instructors worldwide yet we don’t use them very often. When a student needs to hear a lecture or be taught directly how to solve a problem or learn new material, that student has the capability of learning from someone better than you, me or that teacher in the classroom. At it’s purest, the teacher in the classroom should be involved in the most minimal way in offering direct content instruction. The primary goal of that classroom adult should be to mentor kids and change lives, increasing student motivation and engagement so learners can learn.

If a student is being given a traditional grade for new content learning, controlled by a subjective individual, and the student’s progress is determined by that subjective grade, the design is not creative. No matter how frustrated or offended a person may become by that statement, it doesn’t change the fact that the subjective “grading” process cannot be perfect. Now, assessment by subjective educators is still important, and can be done but it shouldn’t be for content learning. Students should master content and the bar should be set high, 90% at a minimum. Technology can do this better than any teacher. Classroom teachers can be highly engaged with students in much more effective ways than the task-heavy components of grading and assessing. Our teachers will never have the opportunity to change every life of every student until the system gives them the freedom to do so.

A lot of steps are being taken but let’s step carefully. We have to know where the fence is before we can even know whether we hit a home run. What determines a win in this is first knowing what elements have to be addressed to determine whether or not we can put our numbers up on the board.