Monday, April 06, 2009

"What's the answer?"

I was talking with a CFF coach today and she told me that one of her middle school classes is participating in the Netgen Project with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay and several other schools from around the country. I was SO glad to have the opportunity to talk, however briefly, with her today.

But she said something that really hit home. She said that when the time came for her students to make their videos the first thing they asked was, "Where's the answer?"

Doesn't that speak volumes about how students are conditioned? They want a "Go fetch" task!


ONeal said...

I think that more and more we are teaching our students how to take tests rather than preparing them for adulthood. There is less and less time for true problem solving and real live experiences because those teachings cut into the time allotted for test preparation. Not only is there less time for problem solving to be taught there is less time for arts, music, health, PE and technology to be taught. Which I believe are crucial elements for a successful education.

If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, you should. He talks about these test taking tasks, memorization, fact retention, repetitive math skills etc., being less meaningful then fields we have been overlooking. Design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning (according to Pink) are going to make the difference between a good employee and an excellent employee. He also talks about how the MBA is now being replaced, in the corporate world, by the MFA.

I have been trying to teach these skills to my students and have realized that they have no idea what these skills even feel like. I tried to have them write a 5 paragraph (I push the 3 paragraph PSSA standard) story about a superhero they made up and it was a struggle for them. THEY TOLD ME THEY WOULD RATHER WRITE A RESEARCH PAPER!!!

I believe that we are doing a serious disadvantage to our students when we withhold these crucial skills from our students just so they can pass a test. Or maybe we as teacher are in the wrong and we need to figure out how to teach these skills while preparing them for the real world. Would it be so hard to incorporate these (design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning) into an everyday lesson? Would it benefit our students?

Or maybe I don’t know what I am talking about – I am just a shop teacher…

Ken Rodoff said...

Yep. They've been conditioned. You should see students when a worksheet lands on their desks.

Assiduous, focused boys and girls, one and all.

You should hear them when they are presented with an inquiry-based project.

Resistant, obstinate boys and girls, crying out for more worksheets.

Your post is timely, especially in my small slice of educational heaven. Students are beginning to recognize the instructional divide that exists within the faculty, and they're adapting accordingly.

But here's the scary part, the teachers involved in CFF are the minority, and so the students view these courses as diversionary and irrelevant; things they need to get through.

But 'traditional' courses, stand and deliver, sit and get, whatever you may call them, oh the students worship these courses. They play them like skilled varsity athletes.

But what they fail to realize is that this 'game' does little to prepare them for the next level.

But this isn't a student it?

Ric Murry said...

You are absolutely correct. The last thing most kids (middle school teacher speaking here) want to do it think, share, and develop ideas. I teach 7th Social Studies. A few days ago I snapped into a bully pulpit, when I had three kids ask, "So what's the right answer?" to a question that was not meant to have a single answer, but to identify that some issues are seen from different perspectives.

They have been conditioned. My "tirade" ended with, "In Social Studies there are no right answers. That's what is wrong with these idiotic standardized test you are forced to take!" As an example, I asked what caused the end to apartheid (something they have to know for their test). Depending on who you read and choose to believe, determines the answer to the question. Was it really a change of heart on the part of deKlerk and the ruling party? Was it the embargoes that influenced their decision, so diamond and gold trade could be renewed? Was it Hollywood celebrities? Was it the United States influence? Was the African National Congress's work that had become "non-violent?" The kids didn't care that there were different factors that all contributed, just "Which ONE is the right answer."

Kids aren't learning under the current pressure to find the right answer. I'll stop now. I just remembered, a parent told me her daughter wouldn't be able to run in a track meet on Saturday, because she "Has to take the SATs." She's an 8th grader! What are we doing to our kids?

[end rant]