Rather than asking what works in education, NPR asked “education researcher John Hattie” about ideas that don’t work. His answers are not based on his own work but on a review of “more than 1,000 ‘meta-analyses’”, whatever that is.
Anyway, I wish the writer had started by asking Mr. Hattie what he means by “works”. Of course, I know the answer. Works means improving scores on standardized tests, even though his number two non-working solution is standardized testing.
High-performing schools, and countries, don’t necessarily give more standardized tests than low performers. They often give fewer.
The alternative: testing that emphasizes giving teachers immediate, actionable feedback to improve teaching.
Having said that, his final item, in which he says the US spends too much money on public education, is based on the fact that other countries spend much less while their students score higher than American kids on an international standardized test (the PISA).
He also says that smaller class sizes don’t work because countries like Japan and Korea have relatively large classes and are “high performing”, again on those standardized tests.
It’s too bad NPR just transcribed the executive summary of Hattie’s paper, instead doing some research of their own and asking some informed questions.
The worst part about stories like this is the failure to recognize that there are major differences between American society and our approach to education with those of other countries. Start with the fact that, instead of national education goals, we have 51 educational policies, plus around 31,000 local school boards.
Then review the level of public support for public education in the US compared to Finland, Japan, and the rest. How many of their government leaders are working hard to demonize teachers and privatize schools?
Finally, look at the societal support systems for children in each country, especially rankings of child poverty rates (anywhere from 20% to 33% of all children, depending on the definition of “poverty”). I’ll bet “making America great again” has nothing to do with improving those dismal statistics.
And anyone who says poverty has nothing to do with learning, has never tried to teach math to a class of hungry middle school students.
Although not as much of a rockstar in the ed reform headlines as STEM or maker, the concept of “design thinking” is beginning to seep into the top ten. Like STEM, maker, and PBL, it’s touted by advocates as a new idea that could revolutionize learning. Also like those other terms, few people can agree on what it is and how it might fit into the classroom.
But don’t worry, even the experts are not sure how to concisely explain design thinking.
Confusion around the precise definition of design thinking is understandable, said Neil Stevenson, the executive portfolio director at IDEO Chicago, one of the best-known purveyors of design thinking. “Design thinking isn’t one thing,” he told me in a phone interview, “but a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term, which obviously has the potential to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding.”
Which means it fits right in with STEM and those other vague educational concepts: “a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term”. Ambiguity and misunderstanding probably describes all of them and more.
I like the idea of design thinking being applied in the classroom since the concept of design incorporates many of the skills we say we want students to learn during their time in K12 (creativity, collaborative, critical thinking, etc.). From my experience, it offers students and teachers an organized process for creating solutions to problems in just about any subject area.
At its best, design thinking incorporates proven-effective teaching techniques such as self-directed inquiry and collaborative problem-solving, and dovetails nicely with social-emotional learning curricula that emphasize interpersonal skills such as collaboration and empathy.
Ultimately, design thinking is not a curriculum, advocates like Stevenson say, but a process for problem-solving, a strategy to elicit creativity rooted in empathy and comfort with failure.
However, there’s just one big problem with trying to incorporate design thinking into our current learning model: the concept does not fit with the curriculum, pedagogy, and objectives used in most American schools.
Simply inserting a few “design” activities into the school year when time allows (aka after the spring tests) does not help students become creative, to learn to think in new ways. The same is true when we try to graft STEM, or maker, or PBL, or any of the many other buzz concepts onto what is already being done in the classroom.
If design thinking is really important (or STEM, or maker, or <insert your favorite curriculum idea>) – if it is really a process students should learn and use – then make it part of everyday school instead of a special activity. Rewrite the curriculum around design principles, help teachers revise their pedagogy to make it work, and completely reimagine how to assess student progress.
Without a complete redesign of what school is, we simply have our 1950’s expectations with a few modern talking points.
It has been a while since I posted one of these collections, although the entries about our Cuba trip last November includes some nice photos.
Anyway, here are a few random shots from the past few weeks, with more, as always, in my Flickr feed.
My friend Kathy and I have made a commitment to go out and practice our photo skills more often this year. This was from a morning we spent at Glen Echo Park, a legendary amusement park in the DC area that closed in 1968 and now operated as a cultural center.
Getting artsy, this is the reflection of trees and the sky in one of the windows of the Glen Echo carousel, which still operates but not during the winter. The windows are from an earlier time and have a lot of imperfections that cause the swirl.
One more shot from Glen Echo, this is a classic arcade machine on display in one of the buildings that would stamp letters into the coins you deposit. A sign on top strongly discouraged dropping money into the machine since it is not functional. Wonder how many people ignore it.
Some of the shoe ornaments Kathy had hanging on her Christmas tree. What is it with ladies and their shoes? :-)
A Chinese alligator at the Cincinnati Zoo. It really blended in well with the surroundings and moved very little as we stared at it.
Just a nice arrangement of cookies.
People involved in business and other institutions often communicate in clichés. Insider words and phrases commonly used but vaguely understood, even less so by those on the outside.
Education certainly has it’s share, with many of them borrowed from other organizations. Like many of those in a post titled 17 Development Clichés I’ll Be Avoiding in 2017.
Empowerment – We want to empower teachers, students, girls, parents, principals, and who? But empowered to do what? However you define it, “empowerment isn’t like a light switch; it’s a long and messy process, and it certainly won’t be completed in a workshop”.
Capacity building – The World Health Organization says this is “the development and strengthening of human and institutional resources”, whatever that is. Ask the next person using the phrase if this is what they mean.
Global citizen – In their “Portrait of a Graduate” document, our local school board says every student needs to be one of these. They aren’t very clear on what it means to be a global citizen, or how their emphasis on a testing culture will make it happen.
Do good and do well – I had a principal who frequently used this phrase, and it, or variations, seem to pop up regularly in talks and writings on educational reform. Still don’t know why.
Liaising with key local stakeholders – And various other phrases incorporating the word “stakeholders”. Although, as much as the term is used in education, we rarely seem to include the most important “stakeholders” in the process – students.
Silver bullet – There’s no such thing, and no one should ever ask if whatever it is we’re talking about is a “silver bullet”. The answer is always no.
The writer also includes the phrase “on the ground”. Educational speakers seem to love something similar – in the trenches. Like the classroom is a battlefield and teaching an act of war. Definitely a cliché to be avoided.
So, how many of these clichés are commonly used in your school and district? How many have any real meaning? Is it possible to drop most of all of them from our conversation, in favor of words that have more meaning?