Posts Tagged edreform

The Problem With Black & White Statements in Education

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by the BCth: http://flickr.com/photos/bcii/4499830063/

I continue to hear how certain educational practices are harmful to kids. Things like homework, desks in rows,  multiple choice questions, worksheets, and tests are stated as being “toxic” and “educational malpractice”.  I think as educators we need to be careful when we make dichotomous statements like these as they tend to end the chance for any productive dialogue.

I have made this mistake before… many times.  I have my areas of passion and there are mindsets and ideas that I have strong opinions about but I have learned (and continue to learn) that when we make statements that polarize people, you leave very little opportunity to engage.

I saw this tweet today by a few educators whom I truly respect:

I believe this came from a statement from Alfie Kohn and people were just sharing his message but I am not sure. Now, I have big concerns about homework (see here for our staff conversation) but this statement about homework leads me to a response of: REALLY? Of all the things we do during the 7 hours kids are at school, homework is THE biggest killer of curiosity?  How are we defining homework? What if we move to an inquiry-driven system in which school is real life and they continue their learning at home?  How do we even start the conversation about questioning homework when the statement says that teachers who assign homework (again, not defining what it is) are killing curiosity more than anything else in school.  Do we really think someone who believes in giving  homework will discuss this after a statement like this?

Tom Schimmer once said to me, “Be careful of the tone of your message as it can alienate those you are trying to reach”.  When we use powerful polar statements, they often “sell” and get retweeted… but do they do anything to move the dialogue and create educational change?  It is no secret that I am a fan of Alfie Kohn’s ideas… but I struggle with the tone that is used.  Compare Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” with the writing that Kohn has been doing for years.  They both have similar messages (and cite similar research) but Pink provides a gentle nudge while Kohn makes us feel like we should lose our teaching licenses if we give homework, use worksheets, or have desks in rows.  Kohn has done very well with the language he uses (and again, love his ideas, personally enjoy his books, and the research he shares) but so many are alienated by his tone and the dichotomous statements he makes. As educational leaders, is this the tone we want to use to create the conditions for change?

We have some fantastic teachers at our school.  Sometimes we have desks in rows, sometimes we give worksheets, and sometimes we use multiple choice.  As my buddy Cale Birk mentioned to me: “Maybe we should be questioning the learning tasks (activities) that students are doing?”.  I would add – maybe we should be less concerned about some instructions/questions written on sheets of paper (or a screen) and the location in which students are sitting and instead focus our attention on student learning and level of engagement.  Is there NEVER a time when kids prefer to work alone?  Is there NEVER a time when some learning should be done away from school? Black and white statements make it seem like this is the case… and, unfortunately, often end the chance for any professional dialogue on the issue.

The few examples stated are important conversations we need to have as educators.  We need to question our assessment practices as well as our learning activities and what we expect of kids away from school; but in order to effectively engage in conversations around these topics, we need to move away from the dichotomous, or black and white, statements of education.

Education is full of grey areas – some darker and some lighter.  If it was easy we would have figured it out long ago.  The vast majority of educators do not intend to harm students with their practices… it is important we listen and attempt to view through the lenses of others.  Only then can we start powerful conversations about educational change.

 

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How Social Media is Changing Education

CC Image from http://kexino.com

The title of this post is a bit misleading.  It is not social media that is changing education, it is the people involved in education who are collaborating by sharing great ideas and challenging others to continue to grow as learners.

Before social media, there were pockets of brilliance in every school, district, and education system but very few people knew about them.  In some countries education was (and still is) viewed as a “race to the top” in which you do not share ideas, you hoard them and hope that your ideas are better than others’.  Schools competing with each other do not share ideas and, as a result, they do not grow as effectively.  What social media has done is allowed the spreading of great ideas in more efficient manner.  Educators in British Columbia can connect and learn from practices taking place anywhere in the world; in addition, they can receive feedback on ideas from any people interested in education.   Good ideas not only become viral but these same ideas also grow to become even better.  I love stealing ideas (and giving credit) from other educators.  George Couros told me one time, “the more people I connect with on Twitter, the more ideas I can steal to make our school better.”

Yes, we still have rankings of schools and countries and these do create much harm and stress; however, as Chris Kennedy said, we can now connect with educators in the other countries to find out what they are doing well and how we can work together to bring those ideas into our own systems.  Let’s be honest, do we want ONLY our students to do well or do we want ALL students to do well?  Can we help create a better society if we are only helping students within our walls to be great?  We don’t hope to be the best by knocking everyone else down… we hope to be GREAT alongside those who we work and grow with.

On Saturday, I had another great edcamp experience at Edcamp Fraser Valley.  The Edcamp experience is highly promoted through Twitter and blogs and the actual day can almost be like a microcosm for Social Media.  We had sessions facilitated and participated by parents, teachers, professors, admin, and students (from elementary through university) and it was all about sharing great ideas and making them better.  People left the edcamp reflecting on how they are going to bring these to their school or learning community… and they left with connections to people that can help them to do this.  We meet people who have like interests that inspire us and we meet people who respectfully disagree and cause us to look at things through a different lens (in my opinion, this is what we need to see more of in social media – those intellectual collisions that help us grow). Edcamps and social media are driven by passionate participants who want to share a voice in education.

Social Media is a place  in which there is less hierarchy (I realize it still exists).  Prior to social media, the idea of me connecting with the author of the book I just read or the keynote speaker I just heard would have been absurd; now, I almost expect to be able to continue the discussions with others, including the speaker or author, through social media.  Also, when conversations are occurring on Twitter, I rarely know the formal position of the person I am chatting with as it is about the dialogue, not the position.  We purposely did not include position or affiliation on our name tags at EdcampFV for this reason… it is not about where you work or what you do but more about what ideas you bring to the discussion.

Gone are the days when we believed we should be trying to be the best by outdoing the school or country next door.  In today’s world we are starting to realize that in order to become great, we need to collaborate and help each other grow by sharing ideas and challenging mindsets.  Yes, policy changes need to take place but the people that can drive system change are those who work within the system; educators, including everyone that impacts education, can affect change by modeling and sharing great practices.

So, how is social media changing education?  It is not… but the people using it to continually connect are directly and indirectly affecting those ‘around’ them and thus, changing what we call education.

 Thank you to George for the chats that have inspired this post.  Just realized that George has already written on this topic so have added it here.

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