Common sense is sometimes not so common. We in education seem to constantly question our practice. Am I having impact? Am I meeting the needs of my students? Are the students in my class getting what they need to be successful citizens in an ever-changing world? Heavy questions – the kind that keep a person up at night. In a quest to do what’s right for those in our care we sometimes look beyond our own common sense and look to overhauling all we do – Project based Learning, Gamification, Flipped Classrooms. All of the trendy catch movements that seem like the answers if we forget what the questions are.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is no place for any of these innovative movements in education, I’m just saying slow down, breath and ask yourself if your priorities are in the right place. Let me place this in a bit of a different light. Let’s say you buy a beautiful house to restore – it’s in pretty good shape but needs a bit of TLC. It has some real selling points – Good structure, new plumbing, livable flooring. The biggest issue is that the electrical desperately needs replacing. In your zest to build a comfortable home for your family, you make a trip to the hardware store. You march in the sliding door and, there it is, shiny and new showcased right at he front, amazing new bamboo flooring! Everyone is putting the new floors in as it really brightens a home up. Not only that but the salesman in front is so knowledgable and keen on this flooring, he tells you how much it will increase the worth of your home. Everyone is getting it! Remember – he is a salesman on commission and has never been in your house.
You buy the bamboo flooring – you install it and sure enough – it looks beautiful. When guests come over, they marvel at how the flooring has really lightened the place up. How this house has transformed with the color and texture. They all want to do the same. Proudly you show them about, beaming at how successful you are as a renovator.
The problem here . . . your electrical is still sketchy and you are in danger of burning your house down. You had a problem that needed fixing and you were led astray by the superficial. A salesman, whose job it is to push a product, sold you on something that wasn’t truly a necessity. Nice to have – definitely. A priority – probably not. This is my concern with education at times.
Let’s refer to the Alberta context a bit. There is a lot going on in terms of transformation in education and a lot of flashy programming linked to it. PBL, gamification, and flipped classrooms to name a few. Schools jump on the band wagon when really, they need to solve a problem in the school . . . numeracy let’s say. They didn’t start with the problem, they started with a solution and are trying to fit the solution to a problem. An example may be the learning commons. As Alberta Education pushes the change to learning commons, schools are drawn to them. They are bright and make the school seem more engaging. Literacy abounds here! That wasn’t the problem though, was it? We do well in literacy, now we have just invested serious money in a learning commons to support literacy when that wasn’t an issue – we rock literacy. We need to solve the problem of declining math scores! So, seeing that numeracy is an issue – we retrofit the learning commons to address numeracy. That may or may not work. The problem is we started with a solution and looked to fit our problem to it . . . .
We got drawn into the glitz. My suggestion – look carefully to find where your school has problems with student outcomes – look hard and look deep. Once you have the problem, look to the solutions and try small steps grounded in research to address the problem. If you’re unsure what steps those may be, look to John Hattie’s work in Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn. Try solutions to solve problems, do not find solutions first and try to apply them to problems.
Food for thought!
Keep on Learning!