Many people have heard me say recently that I believe the Holy Grail to education is turning it around to make the students, not the teachers, responsible for their own learning. I feel this way on so many levels: attendance, assessment, grade level assignments, mastery instead of just passing, self directed learning, to name but a few, but now there is an(other) excellent article in Wired Magazine (October 2013) that provides an example in one of the world’s poorest classrooms. The article, How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses by Joshua Davis, describes how Sergio Juárez Correa changed his teaching methods to allow the students living next to a dump in the Mexican – US border town of Matamoros to direct their own learning. His method? Pose a question and then get out of the way. The results were astounding. All the students improved on standardized tests by considerable margins, while the top 10 got into the 99.99th percentile for Mexico and one little girl got the top score in the country. flickr photo by Digital Explorer http://flickr.com/photos/aeroworks/97338266 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license
I highly recommend reading the article to get a sense of the teacher’s changed methodology (based on many other educators’ philosophies including, most recently, Sugata Mitra of the ‘hole in the wall computer‘ fame), but I really wonder if others have the guts to change their teaching approach so radically. It is easy to think that Sergio Juárez Correa really had little to lose given the community he was serving, but his courage is admirable.
I have battled over the issue of letting students determine what they learn a great deal recently as I learn more and more about the dissatisfaction with the current education model. Almost daily I am reading about how our methods and practices are outdated and teaching students for a passed century and not the current one. And I get it. Why do we start our school day at 7:30am when most teenagers do not really function until 9 or 10am at the earliest? Why do we base our schedule on equal blocks of time for each subject when the time should fluctuate as we need more time in one and less in another? Why do we teach a prescribed curriculum based on content an authority deems important rather than finding out students’ passions? Why do we keep students in groups based on their age rather than their capabilities? Is our resistance to change entirely based on tradition? Perhaps there are reasons why many students are disenchanted with their current education.
So how do we change this? Most of us have been brought up, trained and are committed to the system we find ourselves in. Have we painted ourselves into the proverbial corner? Who has the guts to set the curriculum aside and ask the students, “what do you want to learn?” How can we set up a system that encourages students to think more deeply about problems and issues that concern them? I must admit, as proud as I am of the Digital Connections (DCo) course I helped get started in our school, it is only a small step towards students engaging in independent learning. DCo allows students to choose from a set of activities, and even allows students to create their own activities (with approval), but it still does not go as far as ‘What do you want to learn?’ Steve Crane via Compfight
Perhaps one of my biggest fears is that if I give students the option to do what they like, they will just do nothing, and, honestly, that would reflect badly upon me as their teacher. I know, I know, there is the voice that says a good teacher would motivate students to want to learn what they want to learn about. But I feel like I am bucking the trend of current education and that given the chance, students would just take the opportunity to dodge around having to do anything in my experimental class because they just need a break from the rigors of ‘school’. Maybe that is OK, too.
Which brings me around to the statement which opened this post. If students were held accountable for their own learning, the motivation to complete the work would be their own, not their teachers’. I would love the opportunity to be able to offer up tough questions and then just get out of the way. When we get to this point, I believe students will not only surprise us, but love learning as well.
What do you think? Are you on board with trying to change what we call education? Are small steps a better approach, or do we need to have a radical and sweeping transformation? Would your community openly accept the method that was used in the Matamoros classroom?