Sunday, March 09, 2008

Needed change

Woody has, again, written a post that got me thinking. He is talking about being proactive in our efforts to get kids interested in math, science, and engineering. He discusses a project at his school that was designed to address the issue but isn't, in his view, really working. He says:
Bringing in an Engineer to talk to the students is not going to get them interested in becoming an engineer. Most of these students cannot see this in their future. It is not real to them.
His notion of what needs to be done is this:
I believe we need to change the methods of our teaching first. We need to give the students a way to express how they feel. We need to listen to them. We need to talk with them, and not at them. We need to present ourselves as learners also. We need to let them know that their voice is just as powerful as ours. We need a collection of voices to make learning more powerful to everyone. We need to invite schools to be more proactive instead of reactive. Until this changes, I don't see the students changing.
I couldn't agree with Woody more. Even though I teach adults, my program is set up the same way Woody's is. We talk to the students. We decide what they need to learn. We do not really feel a need to give them a voice in anything that goes on.

I wonder what would happen if I were to throw the "curriculum" out the window and teach students, not some material that they may or may not need or want. I try to adapt what I do to make it more meaningful to them, but my students still have to take the same tests as everyone else. If I don't cover the same material, they are at a real disadvantage. If I try to cover it in a different way, they may have a real understanding of the material but be unprepared to answer the fill-in-the-blank questions on the test.

I would love to teach in an environment that valued learners more. It would be messy, and it might be more difficult to prove to funders that learning had taken place. But I think, given time, we could develop a really excellent program that met students where they were and took them to where they wanted to go. That is a program I would be proud to be associated with.


John said...

Part of me finds Woody's view on the Utopian side; part of me would like to have the kind of class he aspires to. I would like also to jettison the curriculum at times, but like you face the pressures of required exams and my own fears of not giving the students what they need for a test.
Not surprisingly, when I ask the students what they want to work on, it usually involves items that will be on the test or are needed to pass the test.
The problem I have with Woody's ideas and others like them is that sometimes some of the students want what we give them and get upset when we try to diverge from that. This is not to say students would not appreciate the approach, but they have been learning the rules of education for a long time before we get them and changing the rules can be a fearsome thing.

A. Woody DeLauder said...

Thanks for the post. I believe if teachers like us continue to push the bar, the bar will be raised.

This is the hard part of creating change in the education system. You're right. Students do want to do worksheets, multiple choice exams and study guides. This is all they have known since their schooling began. Challenging this takes them out of their comfort zone and actually requires them to use their creative thought process. We have created a society of students and parents which care more about grades than learning. Being a Science Teacher in the Elementary level, this is a hard job. I see the students twice a week for 50 minutes. I can say, that in the time that I see these students, their creative thoughts are challenged and their voice is heard.

I'm not looking for a Utopian School System. I am looking for a school system in which learning is the focus. Thanks for the comment.

John said...

From what you write, I think I would like to be in your class though I would probably grumble a little about it not looking like classes I had been in before.

I have spent time during our break week trying to find a way to help my students learn about commas without me doing my usual schtick because this class is more into socializing than putting on their student faces. I plan on giving them in groups some sentences with the commas and having them find the patterns and write down the questions they can use as guidelines for comma use. It is something I have always wanted to try, but haven't for a variety of reasons (excuses) including time demands.
In doing this, not only am I planning to take them out of their comfort zone, but I first must take myself out of my comfort zone.

A. Woody DeLauder said...

good point ;)