Sunday, November 07, 2004

Slow Learning

In 2002 British academic Maurice Holt, Professor Emeritus of Education University of Colorado, called for a worldwide 'slow schools' movement. This was inspired by the 'slow food' movement which started in Italy in 1986 as a protest against the arrival of McDonald's hamburgers in Rome. The 'slow food' movement was a call not to lose the need to sit back and enjoy food, savoring the cuisine, the wine and the conversation. All things seen at risk with the arrival of a 'fast food' mentality.

In the last decades schools have been forced to rush through a technocratic 'fast food' curriculum with endless superficial learning objectives. There is now no time for in depth learning ; the curriculum has become a 'mile wide and an inch deep.' We are now immersed in an education that stresses results at the expense of in depth understanding. Teachers have become obsessed ( and stressed) with measuring all these small bits of learning and in the process real personalized learning has been forgotten. In the process of proving what students have covered teachers complete endless checklists and graphs teachers for school audits!

What we need to do is to take Professors Holt's advice and slow down the pace of work so as to do fewer things well - aiming in the process for in depth understanding and love of learning. These things cannot be rushed nor easily measured but it is vital for students to be exposed to exciting learning challenges and given the time to grasp important and often difficult ideas. Teachers also, need time to observe what students can do and to provide the appropriate assistance and feedback. In the rush to cover everything we have lost the 'artistry' of teaching.

As well, time allows important things like social skills, values and ethical issues to be discussed ( both neglected by the 'fast food' approach to learning).With a 'slow' approach interesting ideas have time to emerge . Not all the important issues of education can be pre- planned and indeed the student's future learning will require them to be able to cope with the unexpected.

Much of the recent changes to cut back curriculum content, according to Professor Holt, is akin to McDonald's providing salads. If we want students to be engaged in learning the answer is to provide exciting learning challenges that demand students use all the skills and prior knowledge they have. This is true education. It will demand a new mind-set from those who determine what our schools should teach.

Good learning like good food takes time .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good food slow learning - I am all for it. Great ideas.