Friday, August 12, 2011

Changing Education Paradigms

This week, Sal and I have had some powerful conversations about education. He comes from a family of educators and artists, something that I love about him. I have a degree in Education, specifically Elementary Education, and was trained in the constructivist model, which is a learning theory that posits that humans learn through experience. We learn by doing. With a definition as simple as that, you might be tempted to respond with a snarky "no duh!" However, teaching using a constructivist approach is more difficult than one might imagine; it is antithetical to our experiences as students and to the entire structure of our educational system, which is based on a model of training workers for jobs (which is a simplistic summary, I know, but it's true).

I've been thinking a lot about teaching, learning and writing, how they intersect, how they overlap and how they bolster each other. I'm going to share my thoughts and ideas here. I encourage you to participate in the discussion.

To kick things off, I will share with you this animated video of a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in creativity and education. Most of what he says in this video I already knew, but it was so powerful, I actually cried afterward. Because my first response was hopelessness. I thought of my students, my classroom in Pittsburgh, and I worried for them. Our world is so broken.

But I woke up this morning determined to start a dialogue with myself and hopefully with you, blog reader, about what we can do to make our world less broken. Maybe even word toward healing.



Kathleen Kirk said...

Thanks so much for this!

Laura E. Davis said...

you are welcome :) I enjoyed your poems on Soundzine very much, by the way.

Kate said...

Wow! I've seen him on before, but I love the visual on this video. What he says makes a lot of sense, and it makes me wonder how we can implement change on a scale that large. However, although I think change can be beneficial, I've seen people jump on the band wagons of new educational models too quickly, only to see them fall off injured and confused for many complicated reasons. But does that mean we should never take leaps of faith? In my opinion, no, we must learn from the past, keep what works, and reach out for something different and innovative. My opinion is partly based on my experience with reading programs. I teach learning support/emotional support students in a Special Education Center in Pittsburgh. I have a degree in Elementary/Special Education as well as a degree in Reading Education. When I was getting my masters, the big debate was about the approach we should take when teaching kids how to read. In previous years and in other universities the Whole Language Reading Approach had been embraced because it was creative and fun -- and for other reasons I'm sure! However, the fundamentals -- the basic building blocks of learning how to read were not always being taught effectively. When I was receiving my masters, a more direct instruction method of instruction was being taught. My professors liked to talk about what they termed as the "Reading Wars!" But this video is more about changing paradigms. Sometimes we search for the perfect "recipe"  for a successful school. But the world is complicated - the lives of children can be complicated, and we can't all fit into one cookie cutter. I do like sugar cookies though ;) Maybe we do need a new "narrative" one that doesn't simply push for read, study, college, job! We need a new story. 

I was blown away by that study he presented about divergent thinkers! I love that phrase -- sounds like diversity! Reminds me of my undergraduate days exploring Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory in conferences and workshops! Creativity needs to play a part -- and I think poetry plays an important role. Of course, as a lover of poetry, I'm biased! However, I've been amazed at the students who are willing to read and write poetry when ever I do poetry projects -- more interest than I thought initially. Humans need a mode of expression. It helps us learn more about ourselves and the world. Poetry is one of those modes in art that opens these doors. Of course, there are other art forms and schools need to make a place for them. Art is an important piece, but it's not the whole puzzle. I've never been good at putting together puzzles, but I have friends who are! Collaboration is the key like he mentioned in the video! Thanks for sharing!!!

Laura E. Davis said...

Kate, thanks so much for your comments.

I agree, this is a huge issue and it's difficult to try to piece them apart and decide where to begin. It's scary too, because in the mean time, real children are affected by the system. I remember the whole-language vs. phonics debate from my undergrad days. I always felt like they were missing the point. It's not one or the other? It's both, along with a number of other approaches. It requires thinking about school differently from a large perspective. 

My experiences with teaching gifted education were fascinating. I was sitting with my students in 8th grade one day, doing a lesson on something or other, and I finally said to them, "Guys, I'm bored. Are you bored? Let's do something you want to do." At first they looked at me like I was from Mars. Then, they came up with the idea to start a school newspaper and they all applied for different editor positions and they sold the copies to pay for field trips and it was a huge success. I basically tried to say "yes" as much as possible. If they had an idea, I tried to help them make it work. I felt like I wasn't so much as teaching them, but helping them teach themselves. It's a different process and it's scattered and there are things I would change from that first year. It also requires letting go a lot. I had to give up my authority and power, which some people simply won't do. 

Kate said...

Yes! I agree -- empowering students by trusting in their ideas and "letting go" as you say plays a huge part in helping students get more out of learning. A social worker once said to me if the teacher is bored, then her students probably are as well. The second year I organized a poetry forum, I allowed my students more leadership roles (narrator, set up, etc..). This cut back on some behavior problems because they took more ownership of the project. Although, teachers can't completely submit all the control to students -- as we all know!!!! They are kids at the end of the day, and they need guidance at varying levels. BUUTTTT they need to feel their ideas count and that they can make valuable contributions to their learning experiences! It's a fine line to walk! And each student is different. This conversation has inspired me to start a new writing project when I start school in a week -- going to work out the details before we start! Thanks again!

Laura E. Davis said...

Excellent! Please let me know how it goes.