Sunday, March 3, 2013

"School is not working"

How well does your school engage students and get them excited about learning? I recall a speaker at TEDxNY asking a similar question - what if school was the best six hours of a student's day? ASCD's Breaking Free is an interesting book that crystallized many of the thoughts in the back of my mind. Nobody in education seems to be having a good time. Caring teachers work very hard. Students are less and less engaged. Administrators seem to be able to affect only limited change. The introduction from Breaking Free is blunt, "School is not working." School are not "true learning organizations." Students learn the what school expects of them at an early age ("the game of school"). Instruction is generally "teacher-directed and highly routinized." 21st Century skills cannot be taught using the traditional content dispensing machine model. Breaking Free starts with a series of excellent question about what our "customers" are thinking:
  1. What do students think about during the school day because of how we design learning?
  2. How do those thoughts help students grow? How do they limit students?
  3. How much has the work in your school changed in the past two decades? Have those changes led to increased engagement?
  4. What is the most innovative idea that has improved the thinking (and resulting work) of staff? Of students?
  5. What current practices are off limits in re-imagining the work of the school?
Questions to ponder if you were thinking of designing a new school. The questions are also relevant for thinking about improvements to existing schools:
  1. What would the main office look like?
  2. What kind of furniture would be in the classroom?
  3. What instructional tools would be at students' disposal?
  4. What instructional strategies would be used?
  5. What would the schedule look like?
  6. What sounds would we hear?
  7. What would conversations among students look like?
  8. What would parent-teacher conferences look like?
  9. What would report cards look like?
  10. What would the report card communicate?
  11. What would be the hallmark of student's education?
  12. What would the diploma indicate?

The ASCD also has a guide to accompany Breaking Free with more important questions.

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