November 26th, 2012

I Wonder…

Michael Wesch:

I used to think of the shift we need to make in education as one in which we move from making our students simply knowledgeable (knowing a bunch of stuff) to being knowledge-able (able to find, sort, analyze, criticize and ultimately create new information and knowledge). But more important than anything is that we must inspire them to wonder. Wonder is the wellspring from which ideas and creativity flow. One could even argue that there is no truly creative act or critical thinking without wonder, for it is only through wonder that we attempt to go beyond what has been said and done.

Maybe Ken Robinson is wrong in that schools don’t kill creativity as much as schools kill a sense of wonder, and that without wonder, we have no reason to be creative. Without that initial question… But schools can’t dictate what kids wonder about, right? 

And therein lies the problem…

September 1st, 2011

A Vision for Who Our Students Need to *Be*

As my own two kids get ready for the start of school, it’s hard not to reflect on what I most want for them this year. It’s not about the grades they get (I wish they weren’t getting any grades at all, actually), whether or not they “pass the test,” or even so much about what they “know” at the end of the year (i.e. physics in Tess’s case and basic European history in Tucker’s.) More, I’m wondering whether they will love learning more next spring, be more patient problem solvers, understand more fully their place in the world, and embrace failure as opportunity, not defeat. 

None of that, however, will be reflected in their report cards. 

I wonder to what extent my kids’ schools have a vision of what they need to be, rather than what they need to know, as Michael Wesch suggests

I am not interested in what “information” or “skill sets” we need to learn… Skills and information fade into obsolescence . They are the metaphorical fish handed to you by the guy who should have taught you how to fish. More importantly, skills and information alone do not help us lead happier, healthier, richer, more ethical and more meaningful lives.

Exactly right. And while I know that’s not what we as a society ask of our schools, that is exactly what I want my kids schools to be doing right now, especially now. As Wesch suggests, the moment demands it:

As a society, we continue trending toward individualism and superficiality even as we value connection, community, and authenticity. We disengage from community, social action, and politics. We amuse ourselves to death. And the most amazing collaboration and creativity machine ever created celebrates its 20th anniversary as a distraction device.

It shouldn’t be that way. We should be engaged in understanding for ourselves and for our students the ways in which we can make the most of this moment, by eschewing our focus on content and, instead, asking big, hairy, meaningful questions about our own learning and about the world. Wesch has a great riff on that topic in another post in the IDC forum:

Since all good thinking begins with a good question, it strikes me that if we are ultimately trying to create active lifelong learners with critical thinking skills and an ability to think outside the box it might be best to start by getting students to ask better questions. Unfortunately, we can find a great deal of advice on how to ask good questions of students non-rhetorical, open-ended, etc. but we rarely share ideas on how to get students to ask good questions.

When I talk about good questions, I mean the kind of questions that force students to challenge their taken-for-granted assumptions and see their own underlying biases. Oftentimes the answer to a good question is irrelevant; the question is an insight in itself. The only answer to the best questions is another good question. And so the best questions send students on rich and meaningful lifelong quests, question after question after question.

A great question is at the heart of Maxine Greene’s Social Imagination: “the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society.” Really great questions are a step beyond what normally passes for “critical thinking” and become the generative source for finding solutions (and of course, new questions.)

Yeah…that’s what I want for my own kids. That’s what I want to see them doing this year, entering into “rich and meaningful lifelong quests” in the context of physics or history or whatever it is the school compels them to study. Forming and pursuing questions that they find compelling, not just answering ones that the teacher asks. I want them to be in classrooms where:

…students engage in real and relevant problems that excite them, work together to approach these problems as a learning community, and harness and leverage digital technologies while also critically reflecting on how those technologies mediate and change their lives.

I hope that will happen, but I’d by lying if I said I didn’t have my doubts. The system is loathe to embrace that kind of learning. But I also know that kind of learning is happening in classrooms around the country.

So tell me, how will you make that happen in your classrooms this year?

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!

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