Learning to Cram or Learning to Live?

One of the most powerful moments of the film “Most Likely To Succeed” (shared with me by my friend Abe Moore) was when a group of students, when faced with the question of whether they’d like to learn to apply to their lives or learn to ace the tests, they all choose acing tests.

Why? Because this was me in high school, too. I did not have patience for the teachers that tried to push their mumbo-jumbo philosophy of life on us, because we all knew that ultimately, it was only the tests that mattered anyway.

The tests. The gateways to colleges and careers. And if you hadn’t already started cramming for them, you were doomed, right?

So moving was that moment — especially paired with a parent explaining to the progressive teacher that she just “didn’t want any doors closed” to her child, it was almost enough to throw out the whole premise of the documentary, which is that we must change the way school works in order for kids to succeed in this ever-changing world.

Almost enough. But not quite. Because as I continued to watch, I became curious. If these kids aren’t taking the traditional courses and writing the traditional essays and memorizing for the traditional tests, are they getting into college? And if so, are they succeeding there?

It would seem they are. In my curiosity, I came across these High Tech High alumni stories, and I was impressed to hear the kinds of resilience and self-awareness these kids have clearly cultivated and are applying to their higher education journeys.

But even they conceded that in college, they still must face pressure and cramming and testing — but they reassure younger students that they will be ok and that it’s hard for everyone. Meanwhile, as the end of the movie points out, these students are still scoring well on the state standardized tests and getting into college, even without all the emphasis on test prep.

All this leads me to conclude that cramming doesn’t deserve the emphasis we’ve been giving it all these years. Wouldn’t it be better to first cultivate curiosity, determination, resilience, and sense of self, and then trust that our kids will be able to face the obstacles that arise?

I’ll close with one of the final remarks from a teacher in the documentary:

“There is a chance that they will come out without all of the extremelytangible skills and content that they would get at a normal high school…but if we’re going to believe that the content knowledge we’re trying to impart on them in a traditional school is not being retained, then I would argue, what is it again that they’re missing?…Here, they’re gonna leave with an extreme depth of some content and a whole bunch of other soft skills, they’re gonna have grit, they’re gonna be able to persevere through difficulty, they’re good at communicating with adults and their peers, they’re collaborative, they have empathy, all these things that are not things that disappear your junior year of high school. And so, when parents ask that, and they do ask that all the time, it’s really kind of a what do you want out of your student, who do you want them to be?”

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Inquiry into Attitudes: Respect

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Respect. It seems to be a character trait frequently invoked when describing another generation (usually not in a very complimentary light). But as with all these provocations, how often do we give our students the opportunity to construct meaning for such traits for themselves?

This week’s provocation is meant to help students investigate the attitude of respect for themselves.

Resource #1: Respect Mother Nature by Jon Rawlinson

Resource #2: Day & Night by Pixar

Resource #3: For the Birds by Pixar

Resource #4: Celebrating Mr. Rogers by GoogleDoodles via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: A Boy & A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz & Catia Chien

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the role of noticing and appreciating differences when it comes to respect?
  • How does respect impact relationships with friends and family? Strangers?
  • What is our responsibility to respect our environment?
  • How is kindness similar to respect? How is it different?

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I Can Never Go Back

A couple days ago, I was chatting with friend who teaches in our local school district. I shared my plan to teach in the same district when my kids reach school age (due to unfortunate logistics, I won’t be returning to a PYP school). Then I shared that I am nervous about doing so. And then she asked me why.

I was grateful for the chance to really consider the question; I’ve been fretting about it for some time, and fretting is never as productive as reflecting. Why am I nervous? Is it that I’ve been away from the classroom for too long? Am I worried about transitioning back to working full time?

Then I realized the answer rested in a story I wrote on Edutopia a couple winters ago in which I shared before/after approaches to teaching poetry (& literacy in general):

“My students could describe the difference between a limerick and a couplet, but could they articulate why a poem mattered to them? I knew the answer was no.”

In recalling that anecdote & sharing with my friend, I realized I can never go back to teaching in a way that prioritizes memorizing content over constructing meaning. My nervousness stems from not knowing to what degree my yet-unknown future school will let me choose.

If I needed any further convincing about the impact of the latter approach, a parent of one of my former students recently shared a video of his performance as captain of his school’s poetry slam team. In her words,

“Today my son whom is ADHD, struggled reading for so long just lead the first ever Herriman High High School Slam Poetry Team to a 6th place finish. He was team captain and scored the highest of his team with a 27 out of 30. His original poem was on being ADHD and it was remarkable.”

Take a listen. I promise it’s worth the 3 minutes.

And I can never go back. After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.

As if to reinforce this conclusion, later that day, the words from “Come Alive” in The Greatest Showman jumped out at me:

“No more living in those shadows
You and me, we know how that goes
‘Cause once you see it, oh you’ll never, never be the same
We’ll be the light that’s shining
Bottle up and keep on trying
You can prove there’s more to you
You cannot be afraid

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reach it up
To the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

…So, come alive!”

It should be noted that my friend kindly reassured me that she thinks I’ll find a good fit in the district, and I’m sure she is right. Meanwhile, I will try to convert my nervousness into commitment to, as my friend Monte Syrie regularly says, “Do. Reflect. Do Better.” Which is something I know with certainty that I owe to my past & future students, and to myself.

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Inquiry into Attitudes: Cooperation

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As with many other character traits, cooperation is one we clearly value, but how well do our students understand it? For them, is it just the absence of fighting? Or is it something more? This week’s provocation is meant to help students investigate it further for themselves.

Resource #1: What Is Sustainable Development? by World’s Largest Lesson (I plan to begin SDGs provocations after I finish the PYP ones!)

#2: Head Up by Film Bilder

#3: This Too Shall Pass Rube Goldberg Machine by OK Go

#4: Simon Senek on Intensity vs Consistency by The RSA

Resource #5: Flora & the Peacocks by Molly Idle

Resource #6: Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Provocation Questions:

  • How does cooperation work?
  • In what ways must we depend on each other in order to cooperate?
  • Why is cooperation sometimes hard? How do we overcome obstacles?
  • How do cooperation and sustainability connect?
  • What is our responsibility to cooperate with one another as families? As communities? As a planet?
  • How is creativity enhanced when we can cooperate?
  • How is productivity enhanced when we cooperate?
  • How is cooperation connected to relationships? To vulnerability & trust?

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7 Ways For Promoting More Choice within “Compulsory Schooling”

In John Taylor Gatto’s book, Dumbing Us Down, he contends that compulsory education impacts children in the following ways:

#1: It confuses students.

“I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion.”

#2: It teaches kids to accept their rigid class & grade-level placement.

“The lesson of numbered classes is that everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and that there is no way out of your class except by number magic.”

#3: It makes them indifferent.

“The lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?”

#4: It makes them emotionally dependent.

“By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command.”

#5: It makes them intellectually dependent.

“We must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices.”

#6: It teaches provisional self-esteem.

“A monthly report, impressive in its provision, is sent into students’ homes to signal approval or to mark exactly, down to a single percentage point, how dissatisfied with their children parents should be.”

#7: It teaches them that they cannot hide, due to constant supervision.

“I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework,” so that the effect of surveillance, if not that surveillance itself, travels into private households, where students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a father or mother, by exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood.”

While I don’t necessarily agree with all he writes, he makes a pretty solid case regarding these consequences of the institution of school. Despite the fact that he wrote it in 1991, we are still seeing similar consequences today.

by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, April 22, 2018

Nonetheless, here in 2018, we have so many opportunities to address these issues, even within the construct of “compulsory schooling.” I would like to visit how we might address each one today.

#1: Confusion Seek out inquiry & concept-based learning in which students start with the big concepts. Start with the student by provoking thinking and connections. See my list of provocations here on concepts ranging from empathy to color to how we organize ourselves. And check out Laura England’s fabulous recent example with her students’ big thinking.

#2: Accepting class/grade-level placement  Encourage student voice & global collaboration. Solicit their feedback & regularly meet in class meetings to ascertain their feelings about “how things are” and whether they have ideas on how it might be better. And if they want to talk with students or experts beyond their assigned grade level, facilitate that! See amazing examples here.

#3: Indifference Make time for student inquiry such as Genius Hour or Passion time for students to pursue personally meaningful learning over the longterm. See AJ Juliani’s guide.

#4: Emotional dependence → Reject trinkets & prizes in favor of intrinsic motivation. See this great example of how we can do so with regards to reading from Donalyn Miller.

#5: Intellectual dependence Put students in the driver’s seat as often as possible, from planning their day to self-regulation (see more details). 

#6: Provisional self-esteem  Implement Student-led conferences & blogging to allow students to clearly recognize and share their own learning.

#7: Lack of privacy  Ask what parents need (& otherwise view ourselves as support/appendages to the family, rather than family as an appendage of school).

There will always be limitations within the rigid public school system. However, especially as we make advances in technology that provides more opportunities for personalized learning and agency, there will always be ways to find flexibility to help learners take more ownership over their lives as learners. It may be the next best thing to fully self-directed learning.

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Can We Talk About Rationing Screen Time? #TeacherMom

First, let me be clear. I am not in favor of kids spending excessive amounts of time on their devices. The addiction factor, sleep issues, and even growing risk of depression/suicide are all well-known issues for me.

7th grade teacher Pernille Ripp has even recently gone #phonefree in her classroom for these last couple of months, a move her students seem to love as it allows them to more comfortably share vulnerable learning processes.

What I want to discuss is the impact of rationing screen time for our kids. I’m talking about bargaining for behavior, tallying minutes, and otherwise keeping such a tight grip on the amount of time our kids spend on screens that they begin to fixate on it.

It reminds me of what happens when we focus so thoroughly on “forbidden foods” that we end up binge-eating.

What if, instead…

…we regularly discussed the importance of balance?

…we explicitly taught even our young kids that tech can be a tool for empowerment, rather than just an device for entertainment?

 

…we created reasonable default screen time allowances our kids can count on so they don’t have to spend their days worrying when they will next be allowed to watch a movie or play a video game?

…we talked honestly with our kids about our screen time habits — both how we use it for practical and/or positive purposes, and how we are trying to improve not-so-positive habits?

…we set up rules and limitations in a shared manner, learning together about what helps us achieve balance and healthy lifestyle?

Our kids have been born into an remarkable and unprecedented age of technology. Let’s find ways to work alongside them as they work to develop healthy, positive, and balanced habits.

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Inquiry into Skills: Self-Management

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

We constantly talk about providing our students with skills that allow them to think, act, and choose for themselves. In the PYP, such skills include gross/fine motor skills, organization, time management, safety, healthy lifestyle, codes of behavior, and informed choices.

It’s important to regularly provide our students opportunities to discuss & cultivate those skills. This week’s provocation is designed to get the conversation going.

Resource #1: 3 Ways to Start, by New Age Creators

Resource #2: What Matters to You by Jorge R. Canedo E.

Resource #3: Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing by TED-ED

Resource #4: Arat Hosseini’s Instagram account run by his father (I especially loved the Arat’s father’s comment in the second video). 

My son, my hero @arat.gym _____ Father and son #fatherandson

A post shared by Arat Hosseini (@arat.gym) on

✌🏻 👨‍👦 🏅 🏆 @arat.gym I told Arat that’s enough but he wanted to continue. There are times that I get a video from him, but I don’t post it because he looks tired and unhappy , but after we were done with this exercise he told me: dad please post this video , when I grow up I want to see how hard I pushed myself and practiced for being a champion Translated by @asa_kh🌸 💯 💯 🆗 🌎 🌍 🌏 من به آرات گفتم بسه ديگه اما اون خودش ادامه داد. وقتي چهره آرات در فيلمهايي كه ازش ميگيرم به اين حالت است يعني خسته و ناراحت كننده من هيچ وقت فيلمش را نميگذارم اما آخر اين تمرين آرات از من خواست، او گفت: بابا حتما اين فيلمو در پيجم قرار بده تا وقتي بزرگ شدم ببينم چقدر تلاش ميكردم تا روزي قهرمان بشوم. 💯 👌 🌍🌎🌏🆗✌🏻 #sixpack #myson #myhero #hero #baby #kids @arat.gym

A post shared by Arat Hosseini (@arat.gym) on


Resource #5: Forever or A Day by Sarah Jacoby

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to self-manage one’s self?
  • How does self-management impact an individual’s life?
  • What helps a person manage themselves?
  • What obstacles sometimes stand in the way of self-management?
  • How does self-management relate to growth mindset?
  • How does knowing our purpose help us develop self-management skills?
  • How are balance & self-care connected to self-management?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto