When I went to school things were simple. The teacher stood at the board and talked for the entire class period, and we were supposed to sit comatose for 50 minutes writing down everything that they wrote down. We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t pass notes. We couldn’t put our heads down. Any violators were sent to the office, and repeat offenders eventually explored alternative forms of education.
However, one day someone was looking at dropout rates that were as high as 50% in some districts, and said maybe the old way of doing things isn’t working – especially in this post-industrialization/globalization era. The search began for a new way to do things. However, this started a pattern in academia that bugs me. Why is it in education, if something new comes along we abandon everything we know to try the new thing? Here are 3 examples of how we can use the old with the new (by the way some of these new things aren’t really new) in an effort to offer best practices in education.
As a fan of Thomas Aquinas, I too believe that moderation is the key to a balanced life. As educators we must show some restraint. We must first explore for ourselves what works in the classroom. While iPads, Google docs, and apps assist us, there is nothing wrong with a learner taking notes for ten minutes. It’s necessary to development both the ability to use technology in a meaningful way, but we shouldn’t throw out practical tools such as books, pencils, and paper. While virtual coloring is cool and kids enjoy it, there is nothing more exciting then feeling the crayons rubbing against the paper, using your hands to orientate the paper as you wish, to smell the crayons, to accidently make smudges on the paper with your fingers, to hear the noises the paper and the crayons make, to see the colors left on what was once a blank sheet of paper, and I suppose some kids even taste the crayons. I think we need to do both. As children develop, I think it is important that they experience technology as it applies to school as well as the real world, but they also need to learn about traditional approaches to learning and their associated skills.
Moderation also applies to social interactions as well as independent thought. For example, cooperative learning is an absolute necessity, but we should never overlook the need for independent, metacognitive, internalized processes such as input/output learning models. You need both of these things in life. I always tell my learners, “If you are a baseball player, and you are a great batter – that’s awesome. However, you are only a great batter. To be considered a great baseball player, you need to be able to field the ball too. Just because you are good at batting, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice catching some fly balls. In fact you need to practice both.” For some reason, our dichotomous nature always wants us to label things and we think we should be one or the other, but we can be both. Learners can learn to work within a group, collaborate, handle roles and responsibilities as well as sit quietly for a few minutes to contemplate as an individual how to apply their new knowledge to the world around them. We as facilitators need to show them both.
Diversified learning is nothing more than scaffolding the learner from where they are to where they need to be. I get a kick out of teachers and administrators that ask for evidence of diversified learning. True diversity would require diversity in outcomes, objectives, and timeframes. However, in this standardized test world, we are expecting all students to achieve the same objectives in the same amount of time. How does one achieve uniformed objectives with alternate methods and assessments? When you think about it – that’s all that diversified learning is under current models. Give harder worksheets to the gifted kids, average worksheets to the average kids, and easy worksheets to the kids that need a little more time to figure out stuff. But you have to do this for every class you teach, or you are a bad teacher.
Actually, you are not a bad teacher. I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting some students learn to adapt a little on their own with appropriate scaffolding. Little Timmy needs to realize that he struggles with math, and he may need to work twice as hard as Suzy. I think that in the end, Timmy will not only learn the material, but he will also learn some great skills that will benefit him for the rest of his life. Someday he is going to have to compete with Suzy in the real world, so he better figure it out. I always tell my students, “Your ability to do math does not determine your value to society, nor your worth as a human being. How you overcome your challenges does however, and makes you a desired and sought after asset. Don’t give up. Work hard. You can learn the math, and become great. You just might have to work a little harder than someone else. That’s okay.”
While I am only mentioning 3 scenarios such as traditional approaches versus technology, cooperative learning with collaboration versus metacognition, and standardization versus diversity, I suppose the underlining theme is moderation. Moderation could also be applied to learning styles, multiple intelligences, Bloom’s taxonomy, self-actualization, and assessments. I feel best practices are the best because they work. If a teacher has been using direct instruction for the last 30 years and he has good data, then don’t cram an iPad in his face and say, “You could do better if you used flipped instruction, clickers, and virtual manipulatives.” Let him use direct instruction, and another teacher use youtube, animoto, edmodo, moodle, schoology, and interactive smartboards and your students will benefit from both teachers. Academia needs to realize that best practices are not mutually exclusive.