Culture of Change

A few weeks ago, I came to Twitter lamenting the abysmal grades from a quiz I had given. You'd think I had learned my lesson at that point...well, I didn't. I gave another quiz today and I didn't even finish grading the stack of papers. That got me thinking about what I'm really running into problems with.

Having spent significant time overseas, I feel like I have a better appreciation of culture now that I'm back in the United States. I also see the American school culture through a new lens. I am convinced American schools have not only trained kids not to think, but also to resist thinking as much as they can by the time they graduate. I would even go so far as to label it as one of the greatest failures of this nation. Our schools are not set up [allowed] to foster true independent thought. I am having such a hard time teaching this year because I am asking every one of my learners to un-learn the previous eight to ten years of their lives. That's a lot of un-learning that needs to happen.

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I had a discussion with my Honors Biology classes today. Many of them are frustrated because they continue to struggle in the course. To be fair, I do ask a lot of my honors classes. But, these are also highly-motivated learners that need to be pushed. Many of my learners feel that my quizzes are unfair because they don't look like what we studied or the worksheet we did in class to start learning the content.

This is question two from the quiz I gave today:

There are several organelles that are involved in the packaging and movement of proteins through the cell. Name two or three and defend your choices.

Again, my ultimate goal is to turn these learners into independent thinkers.

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I read a post during lunch today by Becky Bair called Baby Steps: Growing Self-Directed Learners, and I am very grateful for whoever tweeted it out. It spoke to my problems and frustration and I was reminded that I am not the only one facing this fight right now.

Culture is partially defined by the "scholarly ambitions" of a group of people. Right now, the American culture of education is not in a good place. There is a cultural battle over a variety of changes and interests. We must remember that amidst all of the debates and policies, we spend every day with the most important part of a school: the learners.

Our responsibility is not to the test. It isn't to the principal, the superintendent, or even Congress. Our responsibility is to the learners that come through our doors and to the communities we work in. Our responsibility is to change the culture from one of making the grade to one that centers on creativity, innovation, and novelty.

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This is my 75th post and I want to sincerely thank each member of my PLN for the encouragement and advice you have shared with me. I can truly say that if I wasn't connected to such an amazing group of educators and advocates of education, I wouldn't be the teacher I am. I feel blessed to be a part of a culture of change in the schools.

3 thoughts on “Culture of Change

  1. Kim says:

    I wonder how much of the students’ resistance to thinking is due to the standardized testing/standardized curriculum that has become so prevalent. By the time students get to us (I teach primarily 10th graders), they just want the answer. Maybe they’ve been trained to beg/whine/wheedle for the answer and teachers who are rushed to push through a curriculum have caved in and given the answers because the teachers feel like they can’t afford the time to have the students discover it for themselves. It’s very frustrating to “untrain” them 10 years into their education.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Oh, I definitely think the focus on testing is a major reason for much of the unlearning I have to work through. I teach mostly 9th graders, so the testing from 8th grade is fresh in their heads by the time I get them. Also, they move through middle school regardless of pass or fail…its a very dangerous system we’re still in. Change needs to be talked about more openly and more regularly.

  2. Marc Seigel says:

    Brian,
    A few years ago the school I was in was trained in Understanding by Design and Essential Questions. The purpose of an essential question is to focus the learning of a unit toward a specific goal. It is basically an objective, but rather than being skill based it is critical thinking based. A colleague decided to hand out his essential questions as the beginning of a unit and make his test only the essential questions. In essence, he handed out the test on the first day of a unit. Everything he did in that unit was geared toward helping students develop ways to answer the questions. What makes an essential question a good question is that it doesn’t have a simple answer. Often they are debatable and can have multiple correct answers. The key is that the students need to defend their choice with the information they have learned. I think that is what you are going for.

    Now, on the flip, maybe your problem is not the quiz, but the preparation for the quiz. Maybe the worksheets and information needs to look more like the quizzes. If the quizzes are testing the students’ thinking, then why aren’t you doing that with all of your assignments?

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