To help encourage conversations and dialogue about the characteristics that foster learning, our topic/question for the week is: What qualities, behaviors, and attributes make someone a good learner? Why? A Focus on Learning (Week of 2/24-2/28) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
Blake's Guiding Lights
Blake's Core Values: Respect, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Reflection
Our Essential Question: How can we cultivate and curate the progression of student learning and growth?
Our Mission: Blake Middle School believes in a living mission statement, based on the concept that our community seeks and respects knowledge, integrity, character, wisdom, and the willingness to adapt to a continually evolving world.
The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning. - John Dewey
You cannot teach today the same way you did yesterday to prepare students for tomorrow. - John Dewey
Hopefully everyone is reading this in a recharged state of mind with a rejuvenated sense of purpose, having enjoyed a nice break from the routines of school. Our week was bookended by the kids’ sports events, starting off with Grayden’s 4th grade team playing at half-time during Holliston’s senior night for basketball on Valentine’s Day - lot of fun and smiles! We had a pretty low-key week, mixing in some ‘to do’ list items with time catching up on rest and relaxation. It has been great to see the change in extended daylight in the afternoon over the last few days.
In my ongoing effort/endeavor/struggle (the correct word depends on the day!) with finding the right balance (again, I’m not sure there is such a thing), I tend to lean on the side of learning, reading, and stretching my own thinking. Through reading, listening, and learning I find myself able to make connections with my own family and with the students at school - child rearing practices, understanding of adolescents, ‘preparing’ students, screen time, the ‘science of learning’, importance of diversity/equity/inclusivity, relationships, etc. As our own kids are in the span of ages 10-16, it feels like Katie and I are in the ‘sweet spot’ (although it doesn’t always feel sweet, for sure!) of connections and growth.
I have shared the work of Will Richardson before and this past week I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to episodes from the Modern Learners podcast (a podcast connected to the Change School Community, a network co-founded by Richardson and Bruce Dixon). The topics vary and touch on all facets of education, with the one commonality of focusing on learning and reimagining the structures of school. Although this may sound like a common feature of educational podcasts, I have not always found that to be the case. One tenet of this podcast is the frequent refrain and message that we must take the time to define learning before we assess the learning. As with our work with Challenge Success, it is important for us to define success. In a similar vein, we often talk about the need for accountability, rigor, and resilience - yet, we (myself included) do not always #slowitdown and take the time to discuss what these words mean. I highly recommend engaging with this podcast, both professionally and personally.
I could go on and on about what it is we need to do, but the poignancy of these podcasts for me was the sharing and discussions about the process of learning. And, I look forward to sharing and discussing these ideas and the implications for our work at Blake. In last week’s blog update (Pursuing Learning) I shared my own ‘new learning’ of the term andragogy (copied below) and I really enjoyed witnessing and listening to the sharing out of ‘adult learning’ at our February faculty meeting...
Andragogy - The art or science of teaching adults (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/andragogy)
Having never heard this term it immediately resonated as we need to see our own learning as more than just a practice - it truly is an art/science, and it is one that we should express and articulate via these questions...How are we currently learning as adults? How are we teaching one another as adults? Are these questions and answers connected?
As a learning community, I can not emphasize enough how important it is that we all (students, teachers, staff, families) are actively learning, sharing learning, modeling learning, and challenging our own learning with one another. There is no end point to learning and that is why we must continually focus on learning as the end point in and of itself - allowing it to evolve and grow. The two quotes below from Cathy Davidson (read a lot of her work this work - inspired from the podcasts) and posts shared below, coupled with a sampling of responses from last week’s question will hopefully help frame the importance of staying true to the purpose of education and school - learning…
- Finding new glaze combinations to go on bisque, (fired clay) clay
- More effective ways to engage students in reading novels in the classroom.
- I am currently excited to learn about the origins and implications of The Free Press.
- I am excited about learning about black people who changed history for the better.
- Because only by learning, whether it be in experience or studies, that is the only way you can grow.
- I like the topics that are taught. The different ways we are taught the lessons are different from each other. The final grade for each lesson differs too. The fun topics and ways of learning them make me excited for some classes.
- I’ve been looking at an artist’s work and trying to figure out the color combinations using color-aid swatches. It’s very effective in creating my own work using this artist as a springboard for my own interpretation
- How to work the core muscles because better health means happier person means better everything
- I am trying to learn how to write basic code using python.
- I am excited about learning some more about the Middle Ages because we never got into depth about them before.
We must reverse the ‘outcome oriented’ educational monster we have unleashed
by Cathy Davidson in The Guardian
As a professor of English at CUNY, Davidson offers a unique perspective about our youth and the education system ‘we’ have put in place for them. As she notes within the post, ‘Our students need to be content creators, not memorisers. Outside school they have mastered this, and it’s more predictive of future success than test scores.’
With over three decades as a college professor, I believe it’s time educators proposed a more accurate pathology of the problems facing youth today and offered a better cure.
Millennials and their younger siblings know difficulty. They were reared on it. No college generation in recent times has faced greater global challenges or an educational system more in need of redesign to prepare them for these challenges...Students are warned that the “robots are coming” but offered an educational system that seems designed not to combat the robots but to turn students into poor facsimiles of them.
...the “problem” with university students today isn’t the students but the educational liabilities we’ve saddled them with. We have schooled them to believe formal education is where intellectual creativity and complexity go to die...I have restructured my courses to support and challenge students not as content memorisers but as content creators – a skill they have mastered outside of school and that is far more predictive of future success than test scores.
As a lifelong educator, I believe the problem of students today lies in us not in our youth. It is our job to reverse this “outcome oriented” educational monster we have created. We need to design a “new education” that encourages students not just to cram for reductive tests but to succeed in the harrowing world we have bequeathed to them.
The Joy and Sorrow of Rereading Holt’s "How Children Learn"
by Peter Gray in Psychology Today
I heard about this post from the Modern Learners podcast (Are we doing the right thing in schools or focusing on outcomes? Podcast) - it highlights this post by Gray and directly references John Holt’s book, How Children Learn. The post has led me to reread Holt’s book as well - one that I have not read in a number of years.
Rereading the book now led me repeatedly to think, How true, How brilliant, How sad. Sad because these true facts and brilliant insights are still understood by only a small percentage of the population, and our schools are now even worse than they were when Holt was alive. They are even more anxiety provoking, more wasteful of young people’s time, more insulting of young people's intelligence, and more disruptive of deep learning and understanding.
- Children don’t choose to learn in order to do things in the future. They choose to do right now what others in their world do, and through doing they learn.
- Children go from whole to parts in their learning, not from parts to whole.
- Children learn by making mistakes and then noticing and correcting their own mistakes.
- Children may learn better by watching older children than by watching adults.
- Fantasy provides children the means to do and learn from activities that they can’t yet do in reality.
- Children make sense of the world by creating mental models and assimilating new information to those models.
The Path to Success Is a Squiggly Line
by Madeline Levine in The Atlantic
As the title of the post notes, Levine speaks to the importance of acknowledging and embracing the ‘squiggly line’ and trajectory for our students. There is a great clip at the bottom of the article - worth checking out!
In the enclaves of privilege in this country, part of the culture is more and more centered on a narrow notion of what success looks like and how to attain it. Money is overvalued, and character undervalued...Too many of us are worried about how our kids will compete globally and are baffled by the desirability of jobs whose titles mystify us: digital overlord, director of insights, growth hacker, innovation Sherpa. We fervently believe that staying “on track” beats wandering around. However, reality suggests otherwise. And instilling this concept of success as a straight line can set kids up for unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
Even if parents ascended a relatively smooth track from school to career success, it’s misguided to assume that what worked for them will be right for their kids, too. (See: the parents who push their kids to apply to their alma mater, for instance.) Encouraging children to follow a linear path makes them cautious and competitive, when what they are most likely to need are curiosity, a willingness to take risks, and a talent for collaboration.
What exactly constitutes success is, of course, open to a world of meaning. Financial independence is one way to measure success, a sense of doing meaningful and fulfilling work is another, and raising a healthy family and contributing to one’s community yet another. Sometimes these varying definitions converge; sometimes they don’t. One of the patterns that I see regularly among people who consider themselves successful is real passion about the work they do: the kind of passion that makes them work harder than others, welcome mistakes and even failures as learning opportunities, and feel that what they do has impact. While money may be inherited, real success always has to be earned.
If a linear progression tightly tied to grades, SAT scores, admittance to selective colleges, and high-powered internships for well-known companies were in fact the path taken by most successful people, we still would have to weigh its value against healthy child development, but at least we would have some evidence that our kids would one day benefit from all of the aggressive preparation, coaching, and tutoring. However, reality—that is, real people following real trajectories—suggests that this particular template is only modestly accurate. More often, a meandering and unexpected path is what leads to success.
I'm Not Your Ideal Graduate | Divergent EDU
by Mandy Froehlich (@mandyfroehlich)
Froehlich’s openness and vulnerability is refreshing and centering - modeling her own learning, growth, and transparent evolution as a student and educator. Her post is one that we should really pay attention to - making sure that we define learning before we assess it.
I became lost in what I really wanted to do with my life when all my goals began to fall apart. I tried to sell Mary Kay. I transferred to the tech school and started a medical transcription degree. I had a knack for medical terms and what they meant. When I became bored of that, I tried selling real estate. I worked at Walmart. I waitressed. I tried to start a photography business. I worked for a place called Deal Chicken. I quit when they tried to make me dress in a chicken costume and stand on the corner clucking. All of that felt wrong, and because of feeling wrong, that all felt like failure.
My life isn’t anywhere near when I thought it would be. There have been so many times that I’ve felt success or I’ve felt less than anyone around me. So many times where I’ve cried because I’ve had to let go of dreams and goals that I was holding onto way too tightly that in the end weren’t meant for me. I’ve had to make tough decisions to move on and trust that my instincts were correct even when the plunge meant something like leaving a job without another one lined up. I’ve had to mourn the loss of experiences I’d never have. I’ve had to feel lost in order to find myself. Repeatedly.
Now, being much older than eight, I define success as if I would do the same thing all over again. My path hasn’t been a straight shot like others have had, but I would consider it a success anyway because I wouldn’t change a thing. Would I have been a good lawyer? Possibly. But that journey wasn’t meant to be mine.
We can define the ideal graduate. It’s a good idea to know what characteristics we would love our students to graduate with so we can support them in their future success the best way we know how. Resilience. Tenacity. Agency. Self-advocacy. However, we also need to realize that sometimes these characteristics don’t show themselves in college graduates or how society views success. They might instead be found in the journey to get to wherever they belong, even if it’s not the one we would have chosen for them.
In keeping with the theme of highlighting words each week in honor of Black History Month, Malcolm X’s quote below about reading, learning, and curiosity seemed pertinent and appropriate...