Friday, February 3, 2017

Learning and Thinking - (getting the right answer isn't good enough anymore)


       Learning and thinking have always been closely linked.  But sometimes, in our schools, we only achieve the appearance of learning--often accompanied by very little thinking.  This problem has been recognized by educators for a long time.  In recent years, however, we have been addressing this issue on various fronts.

       Let me begin by explaining what I mean by the term Appearance of Learning.  This is when students get good grades, but their actual learning is very low.  The grade to the students and to their parents makes it appear as if they have learned a lot, but the attainment of those grades may have been based partly on non-academic measures such as good behavior or mere compliance with rules such as turning in homework on time.  This is a problem because when students move on to more complicated coursework that requires previous knowledge, they struggle due to never actually learning the earlier content in the first place.

     Over the past few years, there has been a stronger attempt to balance the need for teaching skills (such as solving an equation) with the need for teaching conceptual understanding (such as using an equation to solve a problem).  This sort of "teaching" is different from when our students' parents were in school--a time in which just-getting-the-answer might have seemed good enough.  Today we know that this isn't good enough.  Students going to college and students going to work need skills and knowledge beyond merely doing what they are told to do.  Today's world demands more from our citizens.


       Our schools recognize this need and we are trying to make changes to address this challenge.  It's hard to change a system of 100,000 schools, 50,000,000 students, and 3,000,000 teachers.  But (indeed) this change is already happening.  What we used to call a "computer room" is now just about any classroom in the building.  Classrooms with students sitting in nice, neat, straight rows that discouraged collaboration among students have been replaced with classrooms with tables or desks arranged in groups to encourage students to work together and ask questions of each other and learn together.  Grades for non-academic behaviors (mentioned above) are strongly discouraged so that a student's grade can more accurately reflect his/her ability in the content.  Finally, student engagement strategies and growth mindset strategies are constantly being discussed and implemented.  These reflect our knowledge of the best way that students learn.  No longer do we expect everyone to learn strictly by listening to the teacher and taking notes.

       Indeed, the change to an educational system that requires more from our high school graduates is well underway.  The past is in the past and we're not going back.  Those that choose not to change risk creating a generation that is ill prepared for the challenges that they will face.  Learning, thinking, reasoning, and problem solving will be more and more integrated into our schools.

       You're welcome.



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