AeNa YvELLe (moonwindstarsky) wrote in lifeoutside,

Time Magazine: Let's Have a Student Uprising

To improve our schools, put children incharge of their own learning

Book excerpt from Crash Course

Chris Whittle

"The thing that most distinguishes schools of the future from schools of today is the way a system is organized. Today's default system is so ingrained in our national psyche that most people are not even aware fo the group of almost religious assumptions upon which it is based. All of us went through the current design, most for twelve years, making it difficult ot imagine that a school experience could be particularly different. Here are some of the things that most of us treat as 'fixed' realities:

In school, children must be supervised by adults virtually all the time.
Ask yourself: During your schooling experience, what percentage of the time did you spend outside the supervision of an adult? If it was over 5% you went to a very unusual school. The assumption here is that children must be forced to learn, that left to their own devices they would never do it, that they would flee out of schools cheering, just as they do at the end of most school days. Is their fleeing result of some anti-education gene - or could it be, even just a little bit, that they are running from something they experience as ineffective and wasteful? Could it also be that under different circumstances, they would gladly stay?

The school day must be rigidly organized, generally chopped into 45-minute or one-hour blocks.
The idea that these blocks might be two hours was, some years ago, viewed as a grand breakthrough. Ask yourself: During your school experience, did you ever have large blocks of time that you organized yourself?

The smaller the number of children in a class, the better the educational results.
But ask yourself: On what basis do you believe this? Which would be better, a bad teacher with 15 kids or a good one with 30? You might have heard that Japan has educational results superior to ours. Did you know that class sizes in Japan are typically double those of the U.S.?

Adults must run all aspects of the school - and do the work within it.
Students are there to be 'served," goes the conventional thinking. Schools carry students on their backs; students don't carry schools.

What if all of the above 'truths' are incorrect - truths that we will someday regard as myths, artifacts of a forgotten era? What if we approached the organization of a school without any of these 'truths' as cornerstones? Where might simple logic and our own experiences take us instead? What would a school look like then? More important, how would that school perform, not just in the narrow sense of standardized test scores (though in those for sure), but also in the broader sense of developing well-rounded, highly skilled young adults? Let me give you what the new truths of school design might be. Let's focus on five:

1) Learning accomplished through individual effort, or through working in small teams, is 'stickier' (better retained) than that 'served up' in any group, no matter what size.

2) Learning can come in many forms, and the size of the learning group can vary greatly without any penalization of effect whatsoever.

3) Children are capable of tremendous focus and responsibility on their own, and they can be taught these traits earlier than you might think.

4) Variety also matters in learning. Too much of any one thing, like sitting reactively in a classroom for twelve years, has rapidly diminishing returns.

5) children can teach as well as learn. Has your child ever taught you anything? Has your older child ever taught one of your younger ones?

Working from these new potential 'truths,' let's imagine what a scool of the future might look like. Let's suppose that beginning in the first grade, children were expected to spend an hour a day learning on their own, not under direct supervision of a teacher (though perhaps watched over by one of their older peers). Or let's assume they were not in class for hour a day. Let's presume that by the third grade, the amount of time in which students were 'on their own' had increased to two hours per day. By sixth grade, let's assume only half of a student's time was spent in what we now think of as a classroom. finally, by high school, imagine what only one third of a student's time was in a traditional classroom setting. (If you think this is overly radical, consider that many college students are in class fewer than 15 hours a week. They are only a few months older than high school seniors. Did something magically occur to make them more capable of independence?)

What, you may ask, are these students doing? Sleeping at their desks? Playing video games on the school's computers? And if they are not with teachers, then where are they? Well, the answer is: They are learning, just not, at that very moment, with a teacher, just not in a class. More often than not, they will be reading! (Educators believe deeply that students should be reading, but how much of the school day do we actually allow them to do that? We say they should readin the evening, but realistically, after a long day at school and with other homework and important activvities, do we really believe they can or they will?) they also have to be working with small groups of other students. And they might be on ther computers, writing, researching, exploring, mining that almost endless, great new ethereal library, the Internet.

As for where they are: they are in their own cubbies, just as they will probably be years later in their entry-level jobs. This, by the way, doesn't mean that old schools have to be completely rehabbed. Just imagine that some existing classrooms are converted into rooms filled with 30 'learning spots.' New schools, though would have a completely new architectural design to accommodate the emergence of large-scale independent learning.

Many educators reading this are probably saying, perhaps in less kindly terms, 'This idea is hopelessly naive. Students cannot be entrusted with their own educations; they cannot be expected to manage their own time. Students don't understand the importance of education and, therefore, can't be expected to manage it.'

My response: Schools have failed to make students the masters of their own learning, and we have the results to show for it. We are still operating in a type of Charles Dickens-era mind-set, believing that these young, half-civilized things called children must be whipped into shape, if not by a stick, then by a never-ending schedule. Because it has been so long since we examined the real rational of our schools, perhaps schools themselves don't even understand why we are teaching as we do. How, then, can students be expected to get it? One of thhe first things that schools should teach is why education is important. If we do that well, students will embrace their own education. They will become the school's most important teachers: their own.

So how do we put this new independent model into operation? Whatare some of the mechanisms to bring it about? Here are some of the ingredients:

students must be taught to work on their own, beginnning in the early grades. This skill must be part of the curriculum. And this 'independence' should be celebrated by teachers early on - so that it becomes something younger students look forward to.

Second, the independent work should be completely linked to their time in class with teachers. Class should be like illumination and discussion that inspire further inquiry. Independent time should be reading, exploring, and gaining, depth on the classroom topics, as well as getting stumped and needing the teacher's help.

Third, new curriculum will be required, though, in a pinch, the old can be modified. One interesting way to think about new texts is to give students both the text and the teacheer's guide. If students are going to help teach themselves, then why not give them a teacher's resources? Another possibility is that schools adopt or adapth the curriculum now being used by home schooling organizations, the ultimate independent-learning entities.

Fourth, a ubiquitous, superbly functioning technological backbone will be required - that is, laptops and robust networks for all. Much of this independent work will be through the Internet. And one way teachers will monitor progress is through technology - students will be filing electronic assessments.

The fifth element is an important bridge for those who cannot leave behind the mooring that students must be supervised. Specifically, student 'prefects; or parent 'monitors' would be an important part of the new independent learning community. Think of them being 'on patrol,' no different than at crosswalks, to ensure that students have ready access to help and keep moving forward constructively.

Of all the radical proposals in my book, independent learning could have the greatest single effect. The reason: Whatr can be more important than schools graduating students who are capable of working on their own? Being literate is one thing. It is quite another to be self-motivated, self-organized, self-disciplined, self-confident. Though these traits can develop in the current, centuries-old, always-in-a-classroom design that we now deplot, logic and our own life experiences tell us that these characteristics will develop more quickly in an environment specifically designed to nurture them - an environment where independence is taught, expected and practiced. It might no be something that is directly measured on a state assessment, but any reader of this piece knows how important it is to success in life."


1 Give teachers a big raise
Teachers in the U.S. earn, on average, $46,000 a year. We need to double or triple that. Teaching is a profession; it's just not treated that way in America

2 Build a West Point for Principals
We need enough principals to fill 13,500 posts a year. The Federal Government should jump-start the launch of five state-of-the-art universities to produce them

They can do more than we think, and they learn from it. Give them school chores ranging from tutoring to fixing computers

4 Bankroll R&D for schools
Just as the U.S. pays for research on health and defense, it should support the search for innovative ideas in education"
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