The Point of Learning

I don’t mean the “point” of learning in why we need to learn. I mean the actual cognitive place we must find in order to learn.

This year has been the hardest year of school I’ve ever had. I fight battles every single day with students over the simple act of thinking. I have had some begin to see the value, but 90% are still pushing back on nearly everything we do. If you were to come to my room, I think the most common phrases you would hear are “Bro…” and “I don’t know.”

Will Chamberlain had some thoughts a few weeks ago about the “I don’t know” response. It is resignation. It is a student openly stating that they are not going to put in the effort to think about a question or problem. And it is totally acceptable in our schools. Rather than abolishing “I don’t know,” teachers and schools traditionally respond by giving the answer.

I think the point of learning is when students feel challenged and supported at the same time. This balance comes from every teacher, administrator, and student in the building working toward the same goal. The point of learning is the hardest part of school because it is in an educational “sweet spot” where everything is working together the way it is meant to.

When you’re trying to reach that point, these are a few things to consider:

  1. Does your space communicate the physical aspect of learning? Is your space open, flexible, and inviting? Or is it static, “cookie cutter,” and bland? If we can adapt our space (I know we all have limitations) to accentuate learning rather than compliance, you’ll begin moving in the right direction.
  2. Do you meet the needs of your students? As teachers, we have an eye for what our students are proficient and deficient in…we use formative assessments to judge progress and make changes if necessary. What we can’t do, though, is read our student’s minds. Ask them questions. Have them reflect on their learning. Make learning a discussion rather than an announcement.
  3. Do you work alone, or are you connected? The most important piece of working in a school is being connected with your peers. Find someone to work with as much as possible. Eat lunch together, plan together, form goals together. The accountability and the support will help you do your job better. At the same time, consider forming a digital PLN through Twitter, Ning networks, or even your professional organization (NSTA, NMCT, etc). No two points look the same. What is yours like? Feel free to share how you overcome some of the hurdles in the comments.

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Reform the School Day to Reform Schools

Schools and children are dictated by the bell schedule. Classes are 57 minutes, except for math and English, which are 87 minutes, because they’re tested at the end of the year. You have three minutes to get to your next class, where you then wash, rinse and repeat.

Unless we can break the cycles that drive our schools and really model the real world, we cannot have meaningful reform. Ask any professional. Their days do not come in neat chunks of time. Our students are not taught these skills and that hinders many as they head into a world that expects some basic life management out of them.

“21st Century Learning” is becoming synonymous with “[tech tool] in Kids Hands,” which is way off the mark. Yes, they need to be trained on technology, but we can’t stop there.

To me, a true 21st Century School would have flexible schedules, much like college. Teachers would have blocks of time for class and blocks of time for office hours. Students would be free to come and go as they needed, scheduling extra appointments on their own. Attendance would be tracked, and they would need to meet a minimum number of class hours each day or week.

In Indiana, we’re required to have six hours of learning a day. Learning, though, is often limited to classes. Any teacher worth their salt knows learning is much bigger than that. A true 21st Century School will have internship opportunities in place where students can focus on what they want to do, or take a range of opportunities to help narrow their ideas down. We cannot measure learning by seat time alone because usually, the greatest learning happens when we’re not in a seat.

We’ve lost sight of the value of flexibility. We can’t be flexible with schedules because student’s aren’t responsible enough to take them seriously. But, we can’t teach flexibility because there isn’t time in the mandated schedule. It’s a horrible Catch-22 that is holding American schools from making serious improvements. I say its time we begin to let go a little bit and really put our words into action.

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