Teachers must engage all students
When I first started teaching (many years ago!) I was struck by the cookie cutter approach of the education system, that seemed to knock any individualism, originality and enthusiasm right out of young students.
Any student who didn’t fit in was poked and prodded (figuratively) till they were made to fit.
Anyone who has heard Ken Robinson’s TED talk on Changing Paradigms in Education would know that the premise of his argument is that schools today are still based on the Industrial Revolution model of the world, even though it is not relevant to current students and their futures.
We batch students together according to the year they were born, and we progress them through a set program of what we decide they need to know (though we don’t know what the future will hold and what they will need).
We separate the disciplines and teach them totally out of context, often with little or no relevance to their lives and experiences and we constantly test them in the vain hope that more testing will result in better scores.
We also compare their test scores with those of other students, even though every student has their own unique set of variables that make comparing one student with another ludicrous.
One of the most thought-provoking and futuristic pieces I have read recently is from Peter Diamandis, Reinventing our Kids Education.
Thinking about his young sons and their education, Diamandis identifies the 5 issues he sees with how schools are currently run
How Schools Currently Work
Putting a number or a figure on a young person’s work is demotivating and promotes a fixed mindset ie ‘I am a B student’.
We teach students that when they get something wrong they lose marks, status and have somehow failed.
Paradoxically we then expect them to be risk takers, have a go, not be afraid to take a chance. Mixed messages much?
2. Sage on the Stage
Teachers are often still run their classes as if they are the font of all knowledge.
Despite numerous exponents of student-centred learning, the teacher has largely remained the ‘boss of the pool’.
It makes sense.
While archaic systems of standardised testing are used to determine teacher effectiveness and student learning, teachers will be reluctant to give up control.
We live in a world where anything you want to know is at your fingertips. This in itself, is an overwhelming evidence that what we teach and how we teach must be reinvented to stay current. Schools must ask themselves, why are we teaching what we are teaching?
Developing new ideas and concepts requires new thoughts, but where in school do we encourage pursuing ‘crazy ideas’ or developing imagination. Creativity is relegated to art, music and drama and considered the poor cousin to the three R’s.
Much of what kids have to do at school is boring. Tasks are not presented in an engaging, meaningful or relevant way and education that does not engage the emotions, does not engage the brain. Most schools have never set out to be fun or exciting places, but learning IS fun and motivating. The problem much of the time, according to John Holt, How Children Fail, is that kids are either confused, bored or scared. They spend most of their time trying to figure out what the teacher wants them to say or do.
Diamandis goes on to list what he thinks should be the guiding principles for the education system
How Schools Should Work
1. Find and Foster Passion
Tapping into young people’s interests has long been a strategy for engaging students, but what Diamandis is referring to here is fostering and valuing the passion students may have and helping them to discover their passion if it is not obvious.
Allowing students to be exposed to a variety of experiences and adventures will create sparks of excitement and curiosity.
As Einstein famously said,
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
2. Encourage Curiosity
John Hattie’s work has established that teachers talk and ask questions 85% of the day.
This figure needs to be flipped on its head.
Students must be discussing and asking questions if they are to learn effectively.
Hattie recommends student to teacher talk be 3:1.
As Diamandis states,
‘In an age of machine learning, massive data and a trillion sensors, it will be the quality of your questions that will be most important’.
3. Value and Promote Imagination and Creativity
Change and progress occur when people think like entrepreneurs and futurists.
Children are born with imagination but for the most part the school system does not encourage thinking outside the square.
4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills
With the plethora of information at our finger tips, this is probably one of the most important skills our young people need to learn.
At no time has it been more true to say, ‘Don’t believe everything you read’!
5. Build Grit and Perseverance
In a number of different spheres, resilience is being touted as the new black.
In a study of schools with social and emotional learning (SEL) programs students who were taught SEL skills were reported as being more successful academically.
This was attributed to the fact that they persevered when the learning was hard and that they kept going when they made mistakes.
Many teachers know instinctively that students need a different kind of education to the one on offer, but they feel hamstrung by a strictly regimented curriculum, unforgiving, relentless standardised testing and narrow political views about the role of education.
Teachers know that they need to engage students’ hearts as well as their minds if they are to learn.
In his conclusion, Peter Diamandis proposes that schools focus on developing optimistic and abundant mindsets with a tolerance for failure/ celebration of failure.
If we adopt such a positive outlook in our vision of future education, we can have faith that the knowledge and skills of teachers who understand young people will be respected and valued, and that change is inevitable and exciting.