Imagine and Invent…Don’t Re-invent

In the article, Reinventing School from the Ground Up for Inquiry Learning, author Thom Markham opens with the following statement:

A grave miscalculation exists in the minds of many educators: That inquiry-based learning, project based learning, and 21st century competencies can flourish in industrial model schools. Under this world view, the inquiry goals of the Common Core State Standards are “strategies” to be added to the existing list of classroom techniques, while skills like collaboration, communication, or creativity can be taught despite 43-minute periods, desks in rows, and pacing guides set in stone.

In other words, reaching the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy is important, but less so than maintaining regimental order.

This is not the first article I have read dealing with “rethinking” schools.  It seems that whether it is Sir Ken Robinson, Young Zhao, your neighbor, the friend of a friend who is a teacher, or a politician, there is one thing they have in common;  schools are doing it all wrong.   We feel empowered by these utopian pictures of the perfect school and learning environment, the benefits to the future and our feelings that we wish we had experienced some of the “new thinking” when we were kids.  Meanwhile the number of studies involving brain-based research and education proliferate and our collective understanding of how young people learn increases.  Yet, many of these specific recommendations are not put into practice, or worse yet, the conclusions are overgeneralized until the outcomes are no longer possible when implemented.  This leads to more rethinking, more re-organizing and more confusion.

What can we do?  What is possible? How do we get there?

People fear change and yet strive for it all the time.  Is it change we fear?  Is it the fear of comparing the new way to the old way? Or is it that we must embrace a change before we know if it is going to “work”?  Of course there is value in analyzing the mistakes and successes of the past to inform our present and improve our future.  Yet to truly begin to “rethink” schools we have to begin by thinking of what the true purpose is:  to “rethink” what we know about learning.  And this is a far more realistic goal then rethinking a system such as school.  Here is why.

  1. The hard science of learning is rooted in brain-based research. Most research studies are about how people learn NOT how they learn in an institution called school.
  2. We are humans.  We have an innate skill and are naturally adept at learning.
  3. In the history of humanity we have never had the amount of information available to us as we have now.  Let’s be smart about using it.

These three reasons alone are enough to take the plunge and invent school and learning.  Reinventing implies that we begin with what is familiar and what works.  But what if we begin with a true blank slate and evaluate everything that impacts learning using peer reviewed, verifiable research?  Schedule, time of day, sleep, exercise, creativity, focus, food and nutrition, meal frequency, value of social interactions, responsibilities, family communication, nature, nurture, community, motivation, skill building, time on task, expectations, goals, philosophy, metacognition, hands-on learning, value of experts, collaboration, assessments…

 [NOTE: the list gets longer the more I add commas.  Share yours in the comment section and I will update the post as time permits.]

So what do you think deserves consideration when thinking about learning and education as a blank slate?

Where do we begin? Share your thoughts in the comment section and I will incorporate them into a future post.

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