Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Re -imagining schools to tap student talents.
I read a quote the other day that said, ‘Every student is an expert in their own life. They therefore are an invaluable resource for providing evidence about their own learning.’
The thing is, who is listening?
The trouble is in our schools the only students who succeed are those who home backgrounds, or cultures, are aligned with achieving success in traditional academic learning. The remaining students leave with their potential talents unrecognized. This situation is understandable as secondary schools were originally established to cater for the academic students; the remainder being absorbed, in earlier times, into the workforce.
Times have changed. All students are now obliged to say at school until they are sixteen and, even if they leave, there are fewer positions available without school qualifications. The trouble is schools haven’t changed to accommodate these less academic students. In the UK such students are in the ‘three D s’: disappeared, disaffected and disappointed. These 'categories' cover up to 40% of all students.
This is a tragedy in the making. Things need to change. As Einstein said, ‘it is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely extinguished the holy spirit of curiosity.’ By ‘modern methods’ he was referring to mass standardized ‘one size fits all’ schooling based on the assembly line.
When one considers the number of successful entrepreneurs who failed school it becomes obvious that schools are unable to build on the full range of native talents. Such individuals were not seen as ‘customers’ at their school with idiosyncratic needs and many felt inadequate throughout their school days.
Imagine, though, if schools were to systematically assess the particular capabilities of every learner and then set about to enhance each student’s capabilities while, at the same time, exposing them to experiences that might uncover hidden interests. To achieve this schools would need to expose their students to a diverse range of adults to act as role models and not just expose students to narrow academic subject bound teaching. During such experience the possibility that a students might have, what some call a ‘crystallizing experience’ that would then become the central purpose of their lives.
If we want our students to be clever, secure , inventive , independent and focused the trick would be to unconditionally accept each learner as he or she is and then giving thoughtful support to help each student be a better person. This means learning with students as well as teaching.
This, perhaps, is what is meant by ‘personalized learning’ and ought to be the focus for school in the 21st Century? Certainly the vision of mass education has failed the masses.
Everybody who leaves school needs to feel capable at something – feelings of failure are corrosive. The failure is that of the school. Those who have some say in education, at any level, ought to question why so many entrepreneurs were not encouraged by schooling and, more importantly why so many students still leave with little to show for their time but a destructive disaffection with learning. How many good people have we lost?
A ‘personalized school’ would need to meet each incoming student at least half way by adapting its curricula and methods to reflect any particular combination of abilities. Schools, according to Howard Gardner (of ‘multiple intelligences’ fame), would need teachers expert in assessing students needs to identify the talents they bring with them; teachers who are expert in brokering courses to suit the needs of their students (while ensuring core requirements are still being covered); and teachers who have expertise in making use of community expertise to match students needs.
The success of each school would be seen by the demonstrations, performances, portfolios and exhibitions created by learners. The process is obviously important but, as the entrepreneurs, scientists, sportspeople and artists know, so is creating, or making, or achieving, something worthwhile.
Such examples, resulting from talent development represents effort, perseverance, dedication and positive learning values no matter what field of endeavor. And student success ought to be judged against each individual’s previous personal best.
School at the very least ought to remove obstacles that block the development of personal talents. The biggest obstacles to achieving success for all learners are the current school structures and the assumptions and beliefs of the teachers themselves.
We can no longer accept a school system that fails so many of its students and rely on those who escaped to become entrepreneurs capable of thinking of new ways of doing things.
Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written that, ‘We change when it hurts too much not to change’ and that, ‘change is inevitable’.
Better to be leading change than to be forced to follow!
Now is the time for fresh thinking in education.