Three words we need to stop using in education

To mark my blogs move to this new address I thought I’d start with a bit of a rant about three words/ concepts that we need to rethink in education.

bhajis by Booyaa

bhajis by Booyaa

Number 1: Delivery

We’re not serving up onion bajis, although they do sound a good deal more appealing than a lot of what is being offered to too many learners across the world. As educators we are not in the delivery business, we are in the engaging with learners business.

We should be co-creating meaning with our students by provoking, unsettling and supporting. Erica McWilliam’s description of educators as meddlers in the middle has always stayed with me.

Pigeon Holed by Jeffrey K Edwards

Number 2: Grading

Yes this has to go. It has to go. Think assessment, think meaningful feedback, and think informing the learner with accurate, specific, useful information and data. Even within otherwise progressive and enlightened places of learning, ill thought out outdated approaches to assessment kills and stifles learning.

Read some Alfie Kohn on assessment for the social and human aspect of this and watch some Rick Stiggins for how more enlightened approaches to assessment raises student achievement and you won’t look back. Unless of course you think learning is about putting students in rank order, if you think that then please comment, that’s a debate I always enjoy.

I also love George Siemens attack on complicated learning tasks where students are given a puzzle or a challenge that is then graded on how closely the students are able to match their ideas to the teachers with the closest one getting the highest marks. He calls for complex, open learning tasks that we don’t know the result of.

I often find the teachers that are the most resistant to getting rid of content heavy, multiple choice type assessment tasks are the ones that were good at them themselves. It’s like taking away this practice will undermine them as experts. I’m sorry, but get over yourselves, there is too much important stuff to be done further up the cognitive ladder than to be wasting time with just remembering decontextualized facts that will be forgotten anyway. I remember a teacher in a workshop talking about actively trying to forget stuff he’d learnt in high school to free up space in his brain for more useful knowledge, not sure it was possible but imagine that was a student in one of your classes. Ouch.

The good news for those who are looking to get all the stakeholders in a learning community to reflect, discuss and debate your collective approach to learning is that a change to your approach to assessment will do just that. Certainly that was our experience in my previous school when we implemented a new ‘Assessment for Learning’ policy to the parents. This was a contentious move as we got rid of A’s and B’s throughout the school and overall grades in the middle school with a much greater focus on formative assessment and timely, useful, directed feedback. The transition wasn’t easy and there were teething problems but crucially the whole community was forced to rethink many of their assumptions about learning. Here are some of the slides (link to follow) we used from the presentation we did for the parents about the change.

Jail Cell by ABN 2

Jail Cell by ABN 2

Number 3: Curriculum

Yes curriculum, Wikipedia highlights the problem with this term perfectly,

“A curriculum is prescriptive, and is based on a more general syllabus which merely specifies what topics must be understood and to what level to achieve a particular grade or standard.”

Right here is the problem with a lot of people’s thinking about learning. Prescribing what other people should understand is getting us off on the wrong foot as we plan a learning experience, not that that is even possible.

I am not bagging good planning here, although there are aspects to curriculum mapping I think we need to reconsider, but I always feel much more comfortable when we are working towards behaviours, habits and attributes than dealing with prescribed lists and tasks.

Ahead of a learning planning session and during spend if I spend some time with Bena Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind I feel focused and motivated. If I’m thinking about digital literacies I might go back to Alan November’s simple but useful three skills or Howard Rheingold talking about the attributes students need to succeed. However when I am given a prescriptive, restricted list of stuff that students have to do I feel like doing something else and often do.


6 thoughts on “Three words we need to stop using in education

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Three words we need stop using in education « Colin Campbell's learning space --

  2. mnkilmer

    I agree entirely with the first two, especially assessment vs. grading. I’m not sure if I understand the third. My own model of curriculum planning is to identify objectives for students that will give them a proficiency in my subject area and that will also be generally transferrable to other subject areas. Those objectives become the frame by which we (the students and I) do assessment and give feedback. I suppose the problem would come in the design of the objectives and the ability to give students flexibility in how they approach an objective.

    1. Colin Campbell Post author

      @mnkilmer Thanks for the comment. I agree that of the three words I chose ‘curriculum’ is the most contentious. Also I suppose when you get assessment right and have avoided the pitfalls of a ‘delivery’ approach to learning the curriculum is then starting to be freed up for the students and teachers to explore topics and concepts together. However, in my experience, the further up the school you go the less this happens, as courses become more content heavy and tasks more closed and exam focused. So I suppose my criticism is more of an overly prescriptive approach to curriculum design than of the concept of curriculum itself. However having been involved in designing systems to help teachers map their courses I am still searching for an approach that feels like it is getting the balance between flexibility and coordination right. As your comment highlights the challenge is to get the process by which we select the objectives right and I feel we often end up with too many objectives and therefore stifle creativity and openness.

  3. Pingback: (Assigned) (digital) playfulness « Colin Campbell's learning space

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