Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why not?

So with the school year nearing an end and our state testing season upon us I've been thinking...

Why don't we ask our kids how they want to learn the material?  Why don't we select 10-12 students from every course...good students, lazy students, smart students, students with special needs...and ask them to look back at the standards covered and the concepts assessed and get their opinion on more effective and more interesting ways to teach?

Could they inform us about why they struggled to pay attention?  Could they let us know where we had them and where we lost them?  Could they show us that they actually knew and understood what we wanted them to know and understand but that we just didn't ask them the right questions?

Not a day goes by where I don't learn something.  Yet I don't have a classroom or a teacher or a standard that some legislator/teacher/committee decided was important for making me into a "contributing citizen of an ever-increasing globalized world."  I just learn because I'm interested.

Why do we feel that it's okay to put a 16-year-old behind the wheel of an automobile but not allow him to have a say in what he learns and how he learns it?

Is it because we'd then realize we don't have all the answers?  That our students have something to teach us?


  1. What would you ask them? Why not write some sort of survey out and see what they say? I bet you get some crap, but will also get something interesting in the mix as well.

  2. What about asking them at the end of the year? Find out, through some sort of survey, what they liked, what they didn't, what they'd want more of going forward. Why not?

  3. I like your questions here. One thing I have found when students express their interest in curriculum (often without prompting) is that they are interested in local issues. And I don't have all the answers for that, and I can't find them in a textbook. It is harder for me and I certainly don't appear like a vessel of perfect knowledge. We had a long, student led discussion about organic v conventionally grown strawberries (extremely local and relevant as our school is across the street from acres of strawberries and other horticulture), and the students really enjoyed it. And I loved it - It allowed me to open their eyes to science happening right in front of them, and maybe they think about that discussion on the bus ride home past the fields. Maybe?
    Where I think asking for student contribution on the curriculum will fall short is they will request the exciting, sexy stuff, and never ask for any of the foundational or applied pieces. They are not going to ask for the vocabulary lessons on the front end of the local strawberry debate to help them communicate the issue, or ask for the scaled-up applications of modern agriculture to see the big picture. And then when I try to teach those pieces, will their be resistance that I am not teaching what they asked for? Can we compromise that students drive content but not structure? But will that deal with the engagement piece if I lose them in the beginning and end of the lesson, or only grab them for the exciting middle part? Can they trust me to provide all the pieces of the puzzle if I can trust them to pick out that puzzle?
    And I add more questions than answers...

  4. Sorry it took so long to reply. I thought I had my settings alerting me that someone had commented and apparently I did not.

    I think for a long time in education we've taught content. I think much of that content, though not irrelevant, has lost some relevance. I think we can modify the content and put our focus on process. At SLA in Philly they have their five core values: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection. Those five values are aligned to the process of learning I've done over the past 10 years, which has been nearly 100% self-directed. Why is learning for kids not the same?