Once Upon a Time NOT So Far Away

The assignment for this week was to reflect on our teaching and to think about where we mint be in 5, 10, or 15 years from now and how education might have changed by then.

Somewhat selfishly I must admit that I am hoping to be retired in 5 years and enjoying myself without schedules, standards (well, one always needs some standards, and with far fewer meetings. Having said that, I have lots of ideas about what I want to see education be when my nieces and nephews & their little ones are in school.

While ruminating (been in a word study session with 5th graders) about my thoughts I stopped to read David Warlick’s blog, “A School that Practices Learning-Literacy”. In this post he relates discussions he had with principals and vice-principals in British Columbia.  He came away with the following ideas:
So, a school that practices learning-literacy will be a school where

  • The distinctions between teacher and student begin to blur.
  • There is less reliance on textbooks and authority, and more reliance on the work of learning.
  • There is a natural convergence between the rich information skills of literacy and numeracy and the information and data that define the content areas.
  • Teachers teach from new learning, as master learners.
  • Digital Footprints become a central part of the school’s culture, building evolving personal and school identities based on learning and “doing” with the learning.
  • The library magnifies the world outside, but also reflects the culture inside, curating collections of learner produced media products.
  • Where learners learn, teachers model learning, and the school teaches the community.

There you go.  I would add that I would like to see a huge Learning Commons.  Library kitted out with areas for creating videos, audios, other presentation needs; books (yes REAL books); areas for kickin’ back with a good book; areas for working together; areas for sharing books – book talks – poetry slams; and lots of teachers, librarians (who are teachers by the way), tech integrationists, parents, and experts from the community when needed.  All around the LC would be the learning support folks, counselors, and admin.  All roads leading to and from the Learning Commons so to speak.

I would visit there.  Maybe read or tell a story or two.  Perhaps give a book talk or help students with a project.  In between all my retirement projects.

David Warlick Firing Up My Thoughts

David Warlick (2 Cents) most always comes up with something to set my mind to working.  This week I read two of his postings this week.  Both have sent me into conversations with friends and co-workers.  While attending Educon 2.4, David wrote Sustaining an Innovation-Friendly School.   He had attended a session with Chris Emdin.  David Warlick makes an interesting point while listening to Emdin.
But innovation for innovation’s sake risks going
down the same confusing road of technology for
technology’s sake.  It gets taken apart,
sequenced, classified, curriculumized — and it
simply stops making sense.  Chris Emdin pointed
this out when he suggested that innovations can
get cooped, branded, and become dogma.  One
of the many threads that I rode throughout the
day was that there is no one-size-fits-all “vision”
for schooling.

This is an issue I have wrestled with for years.  When I was working for a large district in Washington State our fortunes were tied to bond issues.  (Unfortunately, they still are.)  Every election session there were endless debates on “The Solution to the School Problem”.  Longer hours, shorter  hours, more students per class, less students per class, phonics driven reading, whole language driven reading, raising the bar, more testing, and on and on as to THE solution to seeing more students graduate with an education that would see them through their future.  I particularly like the one about testing at certain grade levels.  If the child doesn’t pass, he/she must be retained.  No accommodation for the child that freezes up at the words “Standardized Test” or any number of reasons that a child’s progress might be less than hoped.  The entire time I was in the States, I never heard a district address an innovative way for helping these children to succeed on the next test – or how to pass without a standardized test score.

Even now, education is such a political football that I find myself grateful for being thousands of miles away from the US during election season(s).  Despite the rhetoric, I don’t see people focused on the CHILD.  They seem to be looking for the one-size fits solution.

Warlick goes on to say, “I think that innovation does not necessarily come from outside the box, but from having access to other boxes that rearrange our perspectives and enable us to come at a problem from a different angle.”

This makes great sense to me.  Over the 20+ years in the business, I have seen schools acquire many different teaching methods, materials, and teachers become proficient in a great many areas.  If we could combine our boxes, I feel that most students could find success.  Some boxes might be old, others very new, and some boxes not yet invented.  Designing their learning could be a new challenge for students.

Finnish Miracles & American Myths

The second post I read of David Warlick’s was Finnish Miracles & American Myths. Warlick list several highlights that Sahlberg mentions in his book.

 

▪ Education has long been important in Finland.  For hundreds of years, according to Sahlberg, literacy has been a requirement for matrimony.  You can’t get married without proving that you’re literate.  (In the US, rhetoric has told us education is important.  It is interesting how the Finns put it into practice.)

▪ Education in Finland is free – everywhere for everybody. (Again, US has free educaton.  The difference must be in the equality in each school, not the difference between “rich schools” and “poor schools” as found in the US).

▪Students track down two branches, starting around year 10, with about 55% of students going to upper secondary school and on to university or polytechnic and 40% going to vocational schools and apprentice training. (The mere mention of vocational schools or apprentice training in many school districts brings hyperventilating.  Arguing that while each student that wants to try for college shouldn’t be allowed, but pushing kids into college that have vocational talents into school seems backward to me.)

 

▪Contrary to the “more is more” approach being promoted here in the U.S., Sahlberg said that Finland has followed a less is more strategy, with
Less per-pupil spending,
–Teachers spending less time in instructional supervision and
–Students spending less time being taught than in the United States and other industrial countries.
–Also less attention is paid to grades (it is apparently illegal to apply any grade to students before 5th grade) and NO reliance on standardized tests. (Sahlberg, 2011)

I am definitely going to investigate the Finnish system.  I don’t see America giving into many of these items, but I would like to know what it looks like in the schools.  Perhaps a trip north is in order.