Roger Schank’s Top 10 Mistakes in Education

Roger Schank has some serious ideas to offer education reformers at his web site Engines for Education. Engines for Education is a nonprofit organization founded by Roger Schank, whose goal is to radically change our notions of school. If you haven’t visited his website, please do. It is well worth it.

The following is from Roger Schank’s Engines for Education web site:

What are the top ten mistakes in education?

Mistake #1: Schools act as if learning can be disassociated from doing.

There really is no learning without doing. There is the appearance of learning without doing when we ask children to memorize stuff. But adults know that they learn best on the job, from experience, by trying things out. Children learn best that way, too. If there is nothing to actually do in a subject area we want to teach children it may be the case that there really isn’t anything that children ought to learn in that subject area.

Mistake #2: Schools believe they have the job of assessment as part of their natural role.

Assessment is not the job of the schools. Products ought to be assessed by the buyer of those products, not the producer of those products. Let the schools do the best job they can and then let the buyer beware. Schools must concentrate on learning and teaching, not testing and comparing.

Mistake #3: Schools believe they have an obligation to create standard curricula.

Why should everyone know the same stuff? What a dull world it would be if everyone knew only the same material. Let children choose where they want to go, and with proper guidance they will choose well and create an alive and diverse society.

Mistake #4: Teachers believe they ought to tell students what they think it is important to know.

There isn’t all that much that it is important to know. There is a lot that it is important to know how to do, however. Teachers should help students figure out how to do stuff the students actually want to do.

Mistake #5: Schools believe instruction can be independent of motivation for actual use.

We really have to get over the idea that some stuff is just worth knowing even if you never do anything with it. Human memories happily erase stuff that has no purpose, so why try to fill up children’s heads with such stuff? Concentrate on figuring out why someone would ever want to know something before you teach it, and teach the reason, in a way that can be believed, at the same time.

Mistake #6: Schools believe studying is an important part of learning.

Practice is an important part of learning, not studying. Studying is a complete waste of time. No one ever remembers the stuff they cram into their heads the night before the exam, so why do it? Practice, on the other hand, makes perfect. But, you have to be practicing a skill that you actually want to know how to perform.

Mistake #7: Schools believe that grading according to age group is an intrinsic part of the organization of a school.

This is just a historical accident and it’s a terrible idea. Age-grouped grades are one of the principal sources of terror for children in school, because they are always feeling they are not as good as someone else or better than someone else, and so on. Such comparisons and other social problems caused by age-similar grades cause many a child to have terrible confidence problems. Allowing students to help those who are younger, on the other hand, works well for both parties.

Mistake #8: Schools believe children will accomplish things only by having grades to strive for.

Grades serve as motivation for some children, but not for all. Some children get very frustrated by the arbitrary use of power represented by grades and simply give up.

Mistake #9: Schools believe discipline is an inherent part of learning.

Old people especially believe this, probably because schools were seriously rigid and uptight in their day. The threat of a ruler across the head makes children anxious and quiet. It does not make them learn. It makes them afraid to fail, which is a different thing altogether.

Mistake #10: Schools believe students have a basic interest in learning whatever it is schools decide to teach to them.

What kid would choose learning mathematics over learning about animals, trucks, sports, or whatever? Is there one? Good. Then, teach him mathematics. Leave the other children alone.

This list does not detail all that is wrong with school, neither do the teaching architectures we propose fix all that is wrong with education. Nevertheless they give an idea of where to begin.

thanks to Roger Schank.

pete

Two Rarely Recognized Values of the Rubric

I’m back from my annual canoe trip and ready to get back to work. Here is Don Mesibov’s latest constructivist newsletter.

pete

The Institute for Learning Centered Education Newsletter
Newsletter Edition: Volume 9, Issue 33

When we first begin to use a rubric, we usually assess the way we’ve always assessed, but use the rubric to put it in a different format. Hence, the highest score on a rubric may be equated to getting every answer correct on the short answer test; the next highest rating is getting nine of ten correct and so on.

Then we gravitate toward putting task requirements in a rubric such as “submitted on time,” “proper format,” etc. etc.

I’d like to suggest two purposes of a rubric that render it valuable as an assessment instrument beyond the way many of us use rubrics:

1. A good rubric can assess student performance.

2. A good rubric can outline expectations for the quality of student work and then provide a vehicle for assessing the quality of the work.

Let’s look at each of these two purposes starting with the value of the rubric for performance assessment. And let’s use the Winter Olympics for an analogy. If we assessed skaters and divers in the Olympics the way most teachers taught in 1980, the skaters would never get on the ice. They would listen to talks about the history of skating, how to make skates, and famous skaters in history. Then they would take a short-answer/essay test and the one who got the highest grade would be awarded the gold medal.

Happily, times have changed. The average classroom is now much more interactive than 30 years ago. This is analogous to letting the skaters get on the ice and perform their routines. However, once they have skated, we are still giving them a paper and pencil test to see how well they know how to skate. While standardized tests are gradually becoming more authentic, they are still mostly paper and pencil tests that move teachers away from rather than toward performance assessment.

A major value of a rubric can be that it enables the teacher to assess student performance while it is happening instead of afterward with a traditional test.

What about the value of the rubric for assessing the quality of student work? This is where a great deal of professional development is needed. The rubric should assess how well students have met the teachers’ learning objectives and this usually can’t be done with a check list. It requires a teacher to think about what the evidence would be of a student who knows, understands and can apply the skill or concept that is the purpose of the lesson.

If students are to learn how to write an opening paragraph for a creative piece that will excite the reader and motivate the reader to continue, then the question the teacher must address in designing the rubric is: “When I read this piece of creative writing what evidence must I see that will convince me the student has written words that will excite and motivate the reader? The answer to this question is what must appear in the highest cell of the rubric.

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Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored. Copyright (c) 2008, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2009 summer constructivist conference, July 20-24, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: http://www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.

Constructivism in the Military and a Hockey All-Star

I’m leaving for my yearly canoe trip today and will be gone until next week; but I wanted to leave you with this great post from Don Mesibov. –

The Institute for Learning Centered Education Newsletter is republished with permission from Don Mesibov.
Date: August 4 , 2008 Newsletter Edition: Volume 9, Issue 32

All Star goalie Ken Dryden has written books about education and spent a school year shadowing a middle school class in Ontario, Canada. Dryden wrote that education could be vastly improved if we adults just recognized that the way we learn and respond to teaching is the same way that children do.

This headline appeared in a local paper two weeks ago:

Training Troops: Enlisted Men Teach Future Officers Ropes

As I read the implications of this headline I realized that the military, like so many organizations in the private sector, does what it thinks will be most effective to help people learn. Research supports the fact that we learn best what we teach others. As adults, we know we learn best when we have to teach something to someone else – this is the common sense of which Ken Dryden writes.

As a teacher, the major shift in thinking I had to adapt was to plan in terms of focusing on what I want students to learn and then finding ways to get them to teach to each other that which I want them to learn.

The previous paragraph is a simple summary of a major shift in my thought process as a teacher. I started thinking this way twenty years ago and I apply this to every workshop I conduct and every class I teach. Teaching this way is not easy. I’m still learning and improving.

TEACHERS: if you try to increase the ways you strive to have students teach each other, be patient with yourselves. Start slowly; do it occasionally if this is not the way you usually teach.

ADMINISTRATORS: Recognize that this is not easy for teachers. If you agree that this is the best way to teach – by enabling students to teach each other while the teacher acts as coach, provide plenty of staff development. Encourage your teachers to increase their usage of students teaching students. Some teachers already do this quite a lot. Support and encourage them. Some teachers try this occasionally. Encourage them to increase the amount, but don’t hurry or pressure them.

When students teach each other they are motivated to learn, the active engagement gives them more meaningful learning experiences, and the ownership that accompanies the process of students teaching students allows and encourages students to take more responsibility for their learning.
Isn’t this what we want – students who are independent learners?

Many teachers have received woefully little staff development in any kind of teaching except teaching from the front of the room. Some haven’t even begun the journey. But many have and are somewhere on the continuum between teaching from the front of the room and conducting entirely student-run classes. As a profession, at least we’re heading in the right direction.

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Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored. Copyright (c) 2008, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2009 summer constructivist conference, July 20-24, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.



Constructivism Defined

Note from Pete:
I found these definitions of constructivist learning posted in Don Mesibov’s, Institute for Learning Centered Education newsletter, very helpful in expanding my understanding of this learning theory.

Newsletter Edition Volume 9, Issue 29

Four of the 43 teams registered for our summer constructivist conference that begins July 21 are from Milwaukee. They are being coordinated by Anne Nordholm who has been working under a grant provided by TALC New Vision which receives financial assistance from the Gates Foundation. According to its web site, “TALC New Vision assists leaders creating new small schools in Milwaukee from the visioning process through the school’s opening and first two years of operation.”
As the period of the grant from TALC runs out, Anne will continue her work with a collaborative of Milwaukee secondary schools through an organization called Basante LLC, a spin off of TALC.

I was impressed with a definition of constructivism on a flier from Basante LLC.

Constructivism Defined
As a theory of learning, constructivism is not a specific theory or format for teaching. Project based learning and other discovery learning formats are sometimes narrowly assumed to encompass all that constructivism is. However, constructivism includes a variety of learning formats that reflect the following characteristics:

• Learning is facilitated (not delivered or transmitted) by posing structured and unstructured problems and questions. The learners, rather than the teacher are responsible for defending, proving, justifying, and communicating their ideas to the classroom community and the community at large. Time is considered an adaptable resource not a confining obstacle.

• Ambiguity and paradox are navigated not avoided. Knowledge is constructed in context, not representative of a fixed reality. Disequilibrium facilitates learning, so errors in thinking should not be minimized or avoided. Challenging, open-ended investigations in realistic meaningful contexts need to be offered which allow learners to explore and generate many possibilities, both affirming and contradictory. Contradictions, in particular, need to be illuminated, explored, and discussed.

• Dialogue within a community engenders further thinking. The classroom needs to be seen as a democratic community of discourse engaged in activity, reflection, and conversation. Building communities of trust are critical since the constructivist learning approach asks student to take

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Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored. Copyright (c) 2008, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2008 summer constructivist conference, July 21-25, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: http://www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.

Using Music to Create Cognitively Challenging Activities

Reprinted with permission from Don Mesibov’s Newsletter for the Institute for Learning Centered Education

Teacher: “OK class, listen to this song and then tell me what is unique about it.
Hint: It has to do with the grammatical construction of the lyrics.”

Teacher then plays “You and I” (you youngsters can probably find it with a Google search. My favourite recording is by Ray Charles and Betty Carter, but it has been performed by many artists.)

Allow the students to guess individually. Then distribute the lyrics and ask students, in pairs or groups of three to punctuate them:

“Darling you and I know the reason why a summer sky is blue and we know why birds in the sky sing melodies too and our love will grow from the first hello until the last goodbye so to sweet romance there is just one answer you and I.”

Here is the correct punctuation:

“Darling you and I know the reason why a summer sky is blue; and we know why birds in the sky sing melodies, too; and our love will grow from the first hello until the last goodbye; so to sweet romance there is just one answer: you and I.”

The song is all one long sentence and that is its uniqueness.

Here’s another: play “Moonlight in Vermont” and ask the students to identify what is different about it from most song lyrics. The answer: there is no rhyme scheme.

This creates a good opportunity to point out to students that song lyrics are poetry. Have them recite lyrics from some of their favorite songs. Many students don’t think of songs as poems. It’s also a good opportunity to discuss whether a poem can be a poem if it doesn’t rhyme. Many students think if it’s a poem it must rhyme.

As Paul Vermette says,

I’ve come to believe that my only task as a teacher is to make my students think.”

These songs will make students think about grammatical structure and poetry. And for social studies, what about Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the Fire.”

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Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored. Copyright (c) 2008, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2008 summer constructivist conference, July 21-25, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: http://www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.

New Teachers Coming to Transform Our Schools?

I just returned from spending a few days listening and learning as I led a district through a comprehensive technology assessment. As part of the assessment, I facilitated several focus groups with teachers and administrators. In one of the focus groups two student teachers sat in with their supervising teachers. The teachers, in general, were frustrated with the lack of professional development available to them, as well as the lack of access to technology and timely tech support.

These veteran HS teachers were upset and talked passionately about how their students were being short changed because there wasn’t much technology available to them.

One pointed to the student teachers and said, “These young folks coming from college have been using technology as part of their learning all through their education. Our kids are going to be behind the eight ball when they get to college.”

Both student teachers smiled and nodded agreement.

I asked these unbelievably young looking student teachers how they used technology in their learning and they both had the same response…they used a Blackboard like system to access their assignments and course resources. They also used the system to submit homework and assignments. Occasionally; but rarely, they used the system to participate in a topic-based discussion forum.

I pressed a little further… did they have any courses that showed them how to use technology to teach their subject matter? Neither of them had had any course or training on using the technology with students. In fact, both were pretty much schooled in large lecture halls.

I have two daughters in college and this pretty much confirmed what they have been relaying to me about how they are being taught.

And therein lies the problem. Even the youngest teachers coming to our classrooms are unprepared to use technology in their teaching! They come straight out of the mold that produced the last generation of teachers.

In their defense, chances are they are less anxious about technology than their veteran counterparts. They may have more experience with Facebook and/or MySpace. They may IM with their eyes closed, and as these two student teachers mentioned; they may have some college experience with BlackBoard type classroom management tools.

That said, these student teachers (both from different colleges BTW), were not prepared to use technology in the process of teaching and learning. I have a feeling that they are not unique.

If this is so, then it is we who are left to do the expensive and time consuming “on the job” training…

Are these student teachers, taught in mostly traditional K-12 classrooms and then graduated to college lecture halls, part of the new wave of tech savvy educators that we hope will transform our schools?

Will they, and the many thousands of new teachers around the country, be any more receptive to employing new teaching pedagogies and teaching styles? Teaching styles that they may have never experienced as they moved through their k-16 education as students?

Are we holding out false hopes?

pete

Performance Goals vs Learning Goals: Are We Learning or Looking Good?

This from the Leading Blog “Which Should You Have? Performance Goals versus Learning Goals” based on research from Carol Dweck.

“Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence.

“It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things…”

In order to do develop new competencies students often go through a phase of confusion, failure, and discomfort. Think about what it feels like to learn a new video game, learn to juggle, or speak another language. Being a beginner requires us to quiet our egos and a willingness to look like a beginner, often in front of others.

Both goals she noted are common and can fuel achievement.

“The tasks that are best for learning are often challenging ones that involve displaying ignorance and risking periods of confusion and errors. The tasks that are best for looking smart are often ones that students are already good at and won’t really learn as much from doing.”

I’ve watched a number of people join my Aikido class and quit soon thereafter because they want to learn it quickly. They don’t like being beginners.

Interesting that our schools have structured themselves to emphasize and reward levels of achievement not “degrees of learning”. NCLB has further encouraged the focus on achievement. As the Leading Blog says:

“..most people would opt for performance goals. Who wants to take a chance of being criticized for looking dumb? Are we learning or looking good?”

Interesting that so many schools that call themselves “Learning Communities” are structured to encourage performance and achievement goals.

Sadly, it is rare to find an educator who will allow themselves to “look dumb” in front of other educators or their own students. When we hide the difficulties involved in learning from our children, or decide that we should stick to things we know, and stay away from things that are unfamiliar so we don’t look bad; we become role models for playing it safe and provide a poor example for young learners.

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pete

Another Way

Whenever I ask a group to close their eyes and think back to someone they worked for who was a great leader, and to remember what they admired about them; I get a very similar list. Here are the top ten items that get mentioned the most:

1) honesty 2) integrity 3) courage 4) accountability 5) vision 6) clarity 7) trustworthy 8} trusting 9) caring 10) inspirational

After the group creates this list I ask a simple question that hits the room as if a bomb was dropped on it, “How do you teach these things to aspiring leaders?”

It’s at that moment when suddenly I begin to hear things like, “Leadership can’t be taught.” “Some people are born leaders.”

If you Google “Leadership” you’ll be pointed to hundreds of thousands of sites and books that describe what great leaders do; they’ll list the “7 Habits”, the “6 Secrets” , the “10 Elements”; but none deal with how we learn the foundations of great leadership, the attributes we know are the most important, the qualities that are reflected in the listed above.

I’ve had people in my sessions say, “Yeah, those things (honesty, integrity, courage, accountability, clarity, vision, trustworthy, trusting, inspirational, etc.) are important…but teach me something “practical” and “concrete”.

What could be more practical and concrete than learning these foundational elements of leadership?

Yet most people choose to ignore them and put their focus on the “tips and techniques” approach to leadership. There are no shortcuts to effective leadership. It is a journey. Those that think they can become leaders and not embody courage, honesty, inspiration, vision, accountability, trust, etc.; are doomed to pretending to be leaders, playing a role rather than truly embodying what makes leaders great.

It’s not surprising that educators who are students of leadership gravitate to “tips and techniques” and in doing so pass over the elements they, themselves, list as the key components of leadership. The “tips and techniques” approach is cognitive “mind work”; the paradigm of learning that is most comfortable and the least threatening for educators. We can learn “tips and techniques” while sitting in a class taking notes. They can be memorized. Anything outside the cognitive domain is not considered “concrete or practical” no matter how concrete or practical it may be.

There is a another way.

So what are we to make of this? Is leadership an accident of birth or can it be learned?

pete

The Learning Dojo

“We are now at a historical transition in which it is crucial that learning be placed in the context of action, as a way of being in the world, instead of being simply intellectually smart.”

leadership-dojo.jpg

I am in the midst of reading Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s excellent new book, “The Leadership Dojo”. In it he puts forth a compelling case for public education to expand its view of learning. Richard recounts studying Aikido in Japan and speaking with a fellow student from New Guinea who says,

“In my country we say that knowledge is only a rumor until it is in the muscle.”

Richard goes on,

“Leadership (and learning) is about taking skilful action, producing results and mobilizing others, not simply acquiring academic knowledge. We learn through our bodies, through recurrent practices, and learning means being able to take new actions. Leadership is a learnable skill.

Trained in the rationalistic tradition where we are predisposed to think of learning as something that happens in the mind; the idea that we learn through our bodies is startling at first. We can see the influence of rationalism in our formal education when we recall sitting at our desks, reading books, listening to lectures, and reviewing case studies and theories. The body was simply the delivery system that transported us to the classroom and then remained in the background as we absorbed information. This person, we would say, is smart, because he or she can prove what they say is true. While this is one interpretation of learning, there is another that has been widely neglected because of the authority of the rationalistic approach. There has been, for example, little recognition given to someone who could produce value through the way they manage mood, how they skillfully coordinate with others to achieve a desired goal, or their ability to ignite the passion and purpose of others.”

Later Richard points out,

“We are now at a historical transition in which it is crucial that learning be placed in the context of action, as a way of being in the world, instead of being simply intellectually smart.”

As we look at new models for educating our children, we would do well to expand our definition of learning from accumulating information, to being able to do something with that information; to be able to take new actions. Reform models that overlook this exciting and emerging definition of learning, may find themselves simply repackaging what they seek to transform.

pete

Teaching Requires Knowing Our Students

“Miriam had taught eighth grade for years. She knew the required curriculum and the amount of time available for each unit. Over the years she had collected many instructional resources to add interest to the topic. She was confident that she had fully prepared for teaching this material. Miriam was unaware that the classroom itself doomed some of her students to failure.

Sue had planned on using at least one Cooperative Learning activity to teach this unit. She assumed that, by actively involving her students, they’d all learn enough to get As or B’s on the unit test. She was doing exactly what her supervisor had suggested. This time her students would out-perform themselves! Sue was unaware that Cooperative Learning would not be effective for a majority of her students.

Barbara had taken a course in alternative teaching strategies. She’d learned that the Activity Alternatives in a Contract Activity Package allowed students to use their “multiple intelligences” to show what and how much they had learned. Her roster included several adolescents who were struggling with identity issues. She thought she’d try a Contract to see if students did as well as her professor had predicted they would. Barbara forgot that the professor had said that Contracts were great -for motivated auditory and/or verbal students.

Most teachers assume that if they care about the youngsters they teach and “cover the curriculum,” their students should be able to master it. Most teachers know what to teach, but don’t realize that they can’t possibly know how to teach it without first identifying how their children learn. And most children do not learn traditionally through lectures, readings or discussions.

Doesn’t everybody learn the same way?

Prize-winning research has made it clear that most children can master the curriculum when they’re taught with strategies, methods or resources that complement how they learn. However, students in the same class often learn differently from each other and many actually learn backwards from each other. As a result, Strategy A can produce an A for one student and a C for another, whereas Strategy B can reverse these same two students’ grades.”
-How do we teach them, if we don’t know how they learn? Apr 1999 by Dunn, RitaRita Dunn

We can talk about Educational Technology and its role in transforming teaching and learning all we want; it is an amazing tool that can be used to differentiate instruction and accommodate the learning styles of most students; but isn’t knowing how the individual students in our classrooms learn best, at the core of all school reform?

pete