Ramblings From My Reading (Edition 1)

One of my favorite things to do is read about education. My main source of information is the numerous blogs that I follow through my Google Reader account. Last year I was pretty good about sharing some of the things that I found most interesting each week and now, since we are a few weeks into 2013, I am going to try to get back to sharing some of the most interesting items that I come across each week.

The first item this week, is a clip from Sugata Mitra that comes from The 16th International Conference on Thinking in Wellington, New Zealand.  In the clip, Mitra makes a case for the long-overdue change in the focus of our schools to prepare students for success in the world that they will need to navigate when they end their formal education.

Mitra advocates for a curricular focus on the following three areas:

  1. reading comprehension
  2. information search and retrieval skills
  3. teach them how to believe – (What’s the machine that allows students?) Some people call this “crap-detection”
The clip ends with Mitra making the following statement:

“The biggest job (we have) is to give the child an armor against doctrine just like we did in another generation by teaching them to fight with a sword and ride a horse.”

Another thing that has me continuing to question the relevance of our focus in traditional classrooms is a post from Ryan Bretag, titled Grade Focused Students. Ryan, an educator in Illinois,   wrote an intriguing post after reading a story from The Globe and Mail titled An A+ Student Regrets His Grades.

The post began with the following quote from The Globe and Mail article:

“The system teaches us that if you get ‘As’ across the board, you’ll be successful. And if you fail a course, you’ll be labelled incompetent or hopeless. These pressures force students to regard education as a mere schooling tenure where the goal is to input a sufficient amount of work to output the highest possible grades. We sacrifice learning for schooling.”

Ryan wondered if this pressure was real or imagined on the part of students. But whichever is the case, he is spot on with his final thoughts:

“schools are filled with grade focused students with grade grubbing, fixed mindsets when we should have schools filled with learning focused learners with growth mindsets. “

My own concerns centers around the same feelings and whether or not a focus on attaining high marks assures anything down the road for our students.  I left the following comment on the blog in reference to my own son’s first semester in high school:

“I have been struggling with this same thought for quite sometime as an administrator, but the level of discomfort has become even greater as my own son has reached high school. Being a competitive person, he has his sights set on what it will take to get into competitive colleges and sadly, for him, that means getting A’s. He has already figured out what it will take to achieve this mark with each of his teachers. In some classes, he can pull this off with minimal effort while in a couple of others he has to spend a good deal of time. However, there is no instance where I see him being engaged in a course because of a love of the content and the authentic learning tasks that he is involved in. He is simply “playing the game of school” and I am not sure what this will accomplish in the end.

Breaking News! No More Homework! (In France)

image via ristinaskybox.blogspot.com

In case you missed it French President Francois Hollande has vowed to eliminate homework for student in France as part of some sweeping education reforms he is proposing to lift France from its poor education ranking among countries in Europe.  President Hollande was quoted as follows on his desire to eliminate homework in the New York Daily News:

“An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”  

It will be interesting to see if the elimination of homework in France happens and how it impacts student learning.  I cannot help wondering what would be lost if we eliminated homework across the board in American schools. I think Ryan Bretag’s great post, Two Questions about Homework, gets right to the heart of this issue.

 Here are the two questions Ryan asks:

  1. As a whole, would “achievement” drop if homework didn’t exist?
  2. As a whole, would the joy of learning, living, & schooling increase if homework didn’t exist?

While the answer to the second question seems obvious, I would encourage classroom practitioners to give number one a try and find out for themselves.

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