While it would be nice if I could figure out who “John” is who posted the following to the “Art of Learning” Facebook group, I agree with the sentiment nonetheless:
The Common Core will not prepare our students for the challenges of 21st century careers because it focuses primarily on text-based literacy skills that are more appropriate and suited for the 19th and early 20th century classroom and workplace. David Coleman, supports a “close reading” approach to literacy that was first introduced in the mid 1900’s. “He embraces what in the 1940′s and 1950′s was called New Criticism, a movement in U.S. universities that emphasized sticking tenaciously to the text of whatever one is reading…New Criticism cautions the reader not to go beyond the text to consider, for example, the biography of the author, the social or historical period in which he/she was writing, or, for that matter, even one’s own personal feelings, attitudes, and experiences in relation to the text.“
While supporters of the Common Core are quick to point out that there are also CCSS anchor standards for media literacy and 21st century skills, Appendix A clearly states that media other than text is inferior and not a priority when it comes to classroom activities and instruction. “These sources [video, podcasts…], while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text. As Adams (2009) puts it, “There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest…”
While being able to use and understand words in text are no doubt still a basic part of communication and a fundamental literacy, we’re now coummicating and creating meaning in the world in interesting new ways that are profound and important and, as the author suggests, basically missing from the CCSS. And while reading and writing in traditional ways need to be mastered, using video and and audio and photos and other forms of multimedia to communicate ideas are now a requirement as well, a “common” requirement if you will. Note (again) the NCTE literacies, i.e. “Active, successful participants in this global society must be able to…create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts” among other things.
But since it’s not explicit in the standards, we’ll most likely leave that up to kids to figure out for themselves.
From the “I Really Don’t Mean to Be Debbie Downer Department” comes this analysis from a fascinating and scary newish blog from John Robb:
Technological change is rapidly killing entire industries and job categories without replacing them. Across the board, incremental productivity improvements are making it possible for employers to get by without hiring new people (even the head of the biggest employer in the World has plans to replace most of his workers with robots). However, that won’t be where we see the greatest losses. Those losses will occur in the industries that are completely gutted from the arrival of products and services that make them obsolete.
As this trend strengthens, we may see results similar to what we saw with the agrarian economy. If that occurs, the extreme endpoint of this decline may be a world where most of the commercial activity in goods and services we see today — from education to health care to manufacturing to transportation to retail to legal services — is accomplished by less than 1% of the people it used to require.
That means only 1 of the hundred jobs being done currently will be left. More strikingly, it’s very likely this won’t take the 200 years it took agriculture to go from 95% of the population to less than 1%. It’s going to be much, much faster this time due to the speed at which improvements can be distributed (software/data). Given this catalyst, we may find ourselves more than half of the way there within twenty years.
Not quite the world we’re educating our kids for, huh?
From a New York Times piece today:
Recently, at Public School 253 in Brooklyn, Myra Wenger applied her new curriculum in a lesson on ancient Athens, asking her second graders why the city adopted Athena, not Poseidon, in naming itself. A pupil, Daniel Gornak, 8, answered, “Because Athena gave more uses than Poseidon did, and more healthy things for Athenians,” and Ms. Wenger lauded his methods in consulting his marble notebook for the facts.
“They love it,” Ms. Wenger said of her lesson plans. “They’re very engaged, more than last year.”
In another room, a group of first graders sat on a mat, eagerly raising their hands to explain similarities between farming in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.
“They needed water,” one student, Rabiha Islam, 6, said.
“And, and, and,” she continued, searching for another answer, “they didn’t have, so they made canals.”
The school chose one of the country’s most popular Common Core curriculums, called Core Knowledge. It is based on the ideas of E. D. Hirsch Jr., whose 1987 book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” argued that mastery of a common set of facts was critical to learning.
Beyond the testing difficulties, one of the criticisms of the Common Core, in New York and elsewhere, is that it can be too demanding for young grades. Diane Ravitch, an educational historian, has said that very little of what is taught to first graders about ancient civilizations will stick with them; Mr. Hirsch and other defenders of the Common Core say children in early grades need lessons in history, civics, science and literature to build vocabularies and thrive.
This captures the question that I get asked more often than any other during discussion around change: Where is the balance when it comes to what every child needs to know now and making sure kids become deep learners in the context of having access to abundant information, knowledge, tools, and teachers? And are we really saying that “what every American needs to know” has to be learned in school? At the same time as everyone else? If you asked a random selection of 100 adults who Poseidon and Athena were, how many could answer? 10? 20? And are those who can’t failures? And by the way, who decides what facts are worthy of “learning?”
Seems easy enough to test this hypothesis. Why don’t we do a large scale assessment on 30-year olds to see how many of them are Common Core or culturally literate and them correlate that to their “success” in life. (Defining success is a long conversation in an of itself.) My guess would be that “success” is much more based on dispositions than it is on content knowledge and the ability to have a conversation about Mesopotamia.
Maker faires, where adults and children are gathering in ever-growing numbers, celebrate the inventor in all of us, but they also seem to be brewing an anti-school streak among some parents and children. “School is boring” has given way to “School is destroying my child. Look at what they are capable of doing! School is oblivious to my child’s interests, talents, and expertise.” I am not willing to give up on school, simply because that is where the kids are. We can and should make classrooms more like Maker Faires.
Often parents are torn between their respect for the institution of school and their intuition that something is not working for their child. Be clear while making your case that although your plans may not look exactly like traditional school, you are not abandoning high standards or a quest for learning. The argument for making, tinkering, and engineering should not be as an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning really looks like.
Seymour Papert in The Children’s Machine (excerpted here.):
It is simply double talk to ask children to take charge of their own learning and at the same time order them to “discover” something that can have no role in helping them understand anything they care about or are interested in or are curious about.
This isn’t rocket science. Each one of us lives this. We learn what we have an interest in learning. The deeper our interest, the less we will let stand in our way. I’m struck by stories like that of Jack Andraka, 15 years-old, who wouldn’t let school stand in the way. (Listen carefully from 1:19 - 2:05.)
It’s easy for a lot of people now to say “we’re moving.” Every kid has an iPad. We’re doing project-based learning. We’re flipping the classroom to make more time for problem-solving. And on.
I can’t speak for him, but I doubt Papert is impressed. Our hubris in education is still that we think we know what, when, and how every child needs to learn. While our rhetoric changes, we remain teacher / curriculum centered despite announcements that our “better” assessments, our “better” curriclum, our “better” uses of technology are transferring ownership of learning to children.
They’re not. We’re not.
danah boyd, in her great new book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens:
Many adults I meet assume that their own childhoods were better and richer, simpler and safer, than the digitally mediated ones contemporary youth experience. They associate the rise of digital technology with decline—social, intellectual, and moral. The research I present here suggests that the opposite is often true. For adults to hear the voices of youth, they must let go of their nostalgia and suspend their fears. This is not easy.
Oxford University Press:
One of the most convincing arguments for using tablets in the classroom is the possibility for students to then take that learning outside of the classroom – they can use the digital materials they are familiar with from class on their own devices at home.
Like most endless runners, Flappy Bird is a game with no conclusion that subsists solely on your hunger for a higher score and your dumb, completely illogical belief that you will in fact get any value out of playing, let alone feel like you’re getting better at the task at all…
…Therein lies the worst part: We know the game is preying on us, and we let it. There is little else as substantive and convincing as Flappy Bird that the smartphone era has driven us to the cliff of insanity when it comes to compulsive behavior, contracting attention spans, and a desire to succeed at something arbitrary and meaningless.
Because ultimately there is absolutely nothing admirable about dusting yourself off from a Game Over and trying again when there’s literally no goal in sight but a higher number and a larger expenditure of your time.
The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.
Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge.
It will also require us to abandon any hope of restoring the Golden Age. It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back. It’s been gone ten years more than it lasted, in fact, and in the time since it ended, we’ve done more damage to our institutions, and our students, and our junior colleagues, by trying to preserve it than we would have by trying to adapt. Arguing that we need to keep the current system going just long enough to get the subsidy the world owes us is really just a way of preserving an arrangement that works well for elites—tenured professors, rich students, endowed institutions—but increasingly badly for everyone else.
Read the whole thing.
There are similar pressures on the K-12 level that make supporting the current system difficult. To date, however, we’ve been stuck almost wholly in preservation mode.
Winter weather may have kept Bishop Donahue High School students home from school Monday, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have to go class.
So starts a story in a West Virginia paper yesterday titled “Snow Days Become ‘Cyber Days’ at BDHS.” It’s as if school is now taking on the postal service’s famous creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these teachers from the swift completion of their appointed deliveries of education…thanks to the internet.”
Words matter here, right? So, it’s interesting that the “cyber day” has nothing to do with learning. (The word itself is mentioned just once when talking about “distance learning”being offered by colleges.) Instead, it’s “the school’s answer to lost instruction time.” Because all that instruction time is just way more important than playing in the snow or reading a good book or going on Minecraft or watching a few hours of tv and just chillin’.
The principal says “This way, we can keep students engaged and continue with lessons with school is canceled.” Really? This is engagement?
"Teachers sent online assignments in the morning through email and students were expected to get the work done by early evening. Students could ask questions by email in the early afternoon and the assignments were graded at the end of the day."
And why can they do this? Because every student has an…wait for it…iPad “they can take with them to complete schoolwork.”
And here is the absolute worst part.
"It’s a benefit if a child is sick or hospitalized or if they are on vacation, they still have access to school. It’s a real benefit. You’ll never replace a teacher in a classroom, but this is an awful good way to still have education continue on days that would have been lost."
Now, read that again.
It still shocks me, the extent to which we continue to dumb down the affordances of the Web and technology for authentic learning in the service of keeping the system grinding no matter what the obstacle. It still shocks me that even before we get to the tech discussion, we can’t seem to even get to the learning discussion. It’s all about schooling. This is the narrative we need to push back hard against.
I’m sure most read this article and think “Progress!” Instead, we should be thinking “Why?”
Treating human beings more humanely can never be a mistake. Learning by making is one of the most humane ways for students to learn. If we were wise, we’d move all our schools—private schools and public schools—rapidly in this direction. In years hence, youth will laugh at old movies showing students sitting obediently in rows of desks in a classroom. “What were they thinking back then?” our youth will mutter. “Were they really so clueless about learning?”
Yes, we really were so clueless about learning.
Today, I’m happy to announce that my friend and colleague Bruce Dixon and I are starting a new membership website, Educating Modern Learners (EML). It’s a site and an accompanying newsletter that’s aimed specifically at helping school leaders and policy makers from around the globe be better informed about the huge technological changes that are impacting education, and to help them make better, more pertinent decisions for the students they serve. And I’m equally excited to announce that we’ve hired one of the best education bloggers / thinkers we know, Audrey Watters, to be the editorial director / lead writer for the site. Our official launch is scheduled for mid-February.
Our hope is that EML will offer a reader-supported, independent voice to help articulate what is as yet a struggling but growing new narrative in the school reform discussion, one that provokes serious conversation at the leadership level around a more learner-centered, inquiry-based, technology and access-rich school experience that more powerfully and relevantly serves children in this fast-changing modern world. We’ll be commissioning some of the best writers and thought-leaders in the world to produce analysis and commentary on all aspects of modern learning, from local, state and ministry level policy issues, new literacies and pedagogies for 21st Century learners, effective change-centered leadership, new technologies, and best school practices, among others. Also in the mix are regular whitepapers, live events, podcasts, and more. More details to come.
Here’s some of where we’re starting from in our thinking about this:
EML is hopefully just the first step in what we hope will be a collection of resources and events that will help expand the contexts for learning and leading in the education leadership space. If you’d like to be notified when we officially launch, just sign up on our "Coming Soon!" page.
Learning is vulnerability. When we learn, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we engage in learning, we communicate that we want to grow, to become better, to improve ourselves. When I first started blogging, I had a sense of fear with every post (“did that sound stupid?”), loss of sleep soul-searching when a critical comment was posted, and envy when peers posted something brilliant (“wow, why didn’t I think of that?”). When a student posts an opinion in a discussion forum or when someone offers a controversial opinion – these are vulnerability-inducing expressions. On a smaller scale, posting a tweet, sharing an image, or speaking into the void can be intimidating for a new user. (I’m less clear about how being vulnerable becomes craving attention for some people as they get immersed in media!). While the learning process can’t be short-circuited, and the ambiguity and messiness can’t be eliminated, it is helpful for educators to recognize the social, identity, and emotional factors that influence learners. Often, these factors matter more than content/knowledge elements in contributing to learner success.
Walk down the vendor floor of any big edu-conference and you’ll see our obsession with making learning less messy and less “vulnerable.” Struggle, patience, courage, persistence, failure, passion…none of these are quantifiable to the degree that reformers or most edupreneurs need them to be to “count.” Yet schools will spend time and money (lots of it) on stuff that organizes, compartmentalizes, personalizes, standardizes, and captures “learning” in order to be compared “successfully” to other districts down the road.
If we fail to recognize the inherent risk that goes with learning something new, we fail our kids. Yet we try to mitigate that risk in almost every decision we make.
Suw Charman-Anderson commenting on a great post from David Weinberger:
I wonder too if my lack of blog writing is related to a lack of blog reading. My RSS reader became so clogged that I feared it, wouldn’t open it, and ultimately, abandoned it. And then Twitter and now Zite arrived to provide me with random rewards for clicking and swiping, showing me stuff that I had no idea I wanted to read. Instead of following the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends, I read random crap off the internet that some algorithm thinks I might be interested in, or that is recommended by the people I follow on Twitter.
This resonates pretty deeply for me. I’ve always been somewhat an angsty blogger, or angsty about blogging. It’s been a long time since I felt like I’ve blogged often enough, or, more importantly, “well” enough. (So many truly brilliant people I read today make me feel totally unworthy.) I know every writer struggles with these demons (I can’t read those that don’t,) but what Suw writes above cuts to much of my experience over the past few years.
But then there’s this: At the beginning of last year, I lost all sense of balance with social media. Trying to start a weekly parent newsletter (which will be back in some form at some point, I promise) meant non-stop reading and thinking and writing to the point where my brain just started to fry. And then did fry.
No surprise then, looking back on it, that I started running again last June. And I’ve run or done something workout related almost every day since. I may actually be in the best physical shape of my life. And it’s because something just clicked and said “step away from the Twitter.” Not that I’ve been absent completely, but I find myself less and less inclined to put all of this before my kids, my wife, my sanity. I’m physically away enough already. I’m choosing to be present in a way I’d forgotten. I’m learning to carve out important offline time to write and create. And it’s good.
I still believe that these technologies provide us huge opportunities to learn and to create and to change the world for good, but I’ve been realizing more and more that for me, at least, they can also distract in ways that aren’t wonderful. Kudos to those of you who don’t share in that struggle. And to be honest, I’m just weary of the egos. I’m thinking the best way forward might be to follow “the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends” and let the rest of it just float on by. As Suw says, that may or may not be a good thing. Serendipity and randomness have their merits.
Three basketball games to watch my kids play this afternoon…don’t expect me on Twitter.
From the “We Just Can’t Seem to Understand How Learning Really Happens Department” I bring you Crystal Hunter, CEO of Edmodo:
From my perspective, 2013 demonstrated that teachers are more connected than ever before. These connections give teachers the ability to build relationships and share content worldwide, including app recommendations, alternative approaches to lesson plans, links to videos, and more—all of which save them time and augment student comprehension of subject material. As the industry determines how to define success in education, it’s important to allow educators to lead the dialogue. Teachers are the ones shaping today’s youth, one student at a time, and much can be learned from the ways they collaborate. In 2014, we’ll see how much these connections positively influence student success.
No need, obviously, for teachers to actually create anything with these technologies and connections. And I’ve been waiting for something to “augment” my kids’ “comprehension of subject material” for some time now. And I’m just tickled that the “industry” will define success and…wait for it… “allow” teachers to lead the dialogue. Wow! How exciting!
If this is the best that 2014 has to offer, we might as well close up shop.
(And not for nothing, but if teachers using blogs to connect their kids to global others is “best practice” in 2013, then what was it some 12 years ago when we were doing that in my lit and journalism classrooms? Mercy.)