Technology aside, there’s no denying that "kids today" (Don’t you love that expression?) don’t learn like the students of even a few years ago. As a teacher, I used to overhear some colleagues who would criticize students who asked that timeless question: "When will we ever use this?"
"When?" the teacher would mock as he choked down a bite of school-issued corn dog, "How about on Friday’s test?"
And the room would burst into laughter (it’s amazing how many times the same people will laugh at the same joke), I’d chuckle along nervously never quite feeling right about basically telling kids that the answer to that question is, "Never."
As a math teacher, I badly wanted my students to appreciate the wonder that is a quadratic equation, or the simplicity and elegance of the Pythagorean theorem, but I also knew that very few of them would ever work in a job where there boss would burst into their cubicle and say, "Thompson! I want you to find the roots of this equation and I want the results on my desk in five minutes!" or "Smith! Get in here this instant and help me calculate the length of the hypotenuse given the other two sides!"
So Friday morning we had a group of teachers present what I thought was an outstanding staff development presentation on Daggett’s rigor and relevance framework. I think what immediately struck me about the "relevance" of this model is the amount of time we as educators spend in Quadrant A:
Students gather and store bits of knowledge and information. Students are primarily expected to remember or understand this knowledge.
How very exciting. Spending most of your instructional time in Quadrant A changes the R & R from "rigor and relevance" to "remember and regurgitate." Compare that with Quadrant D:
Students have the competence to think in complex ways and to apply their knowledge and skills. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.
That’s quite a leap from what many teachers traditionally do in their classrooms and I’m starting to believe that it comes from what we’re expecting our students to do with what they’ve learned. An all-to-common view of education is that a teachers "gives" knowledge to students. Then, when a certain predetermined amount of information has been given, students take a paper-and-pencil test which purports to measure of how much information they "received."
This view of learning as a transaction is dull, uninteresting, and generally irrelevant. The challenge is clear: How can we create instruction that is interesting, challenging, and somehow connected to students’ lives?
Facilitating this kind of learning isn’t easy, but it helps to begin with the end in mind. If you would like your students to be working on authentic assessments that stretch them to Quadrant D, it’s unreasonable to expect to accomplish this by having them spend the majority of their time learning in Quadrant A. And you’re not going to get there overnight. It takes time to really learn and digest concepts and process them enough to be able to extend them in new and complex ways.
The very fact that learning and understanding at this level requires more time then the "traditional" teach-test cycle means that one of the first concerns from teachers will be, "How am I going to find the time to do all this with all the stuff that [the District / the State / the Test] wants me to teach?" I’m pretty sure that the answer is, "You’re not. Something has to give."
Does this mean thumbing your nose at state mandated competencies and standards? To my way of thinking, it doesn’t. What it does mean, though, is taking the time to weed through all of the stuff teachers are teaching. When teachers realigned curriculum with state-adopted standards, did they just pile this on to what they were teaching already? As teachers, we all became attached to certain topics or units that we loved to teach, but if those don’t jive with the state standards for a particular course or grade level, why are we so attached?
I would argue that in the interest of more effective instruction, there is always room for something to be cut out. Continuing to view state standards and competencies as more things being "piled on" is a very narrow view that doesn’t account for what is not required any more. And even when we look at state standards, there are always those that seem to be emphasized more on state assessments. If a particular standard represents one or two questions on the assessment, it only makes sense to devote a comparable proportion of class time to covering it.
Again, all this revamping of curriculum takes time, but it’s a one-time investment. Or at the very least a once-every-few-years investment. So when confronted with, "When am I supposed to find time to do these kinds of things in my classroom?" I’m more apt to respond with, "That’s a great question! Why don’t you bring down your existing lesson plans? I’ve got copies of the state standards and district curriculum frameworks in my office so I’m sure we can find some wiggle room!"
To me, that’s the best way I can support teachers. Sure, I’ll deal with a problem child from time to time, but as we continue to make school more relevant to kids’ lives, I have a feeling the number of disengaged students who become behavior concerns will continue to decline.