Modern Learners Newsletter #222: Confused Yet?

Greetings Fellow Internet Edu-Wayfarers,

Another week gone by in our quest to break down the boxes in our brains that define what school is. How we doing with that?

Bruce is traipsing through the wine country of New Zealand this week where, (did you hear?) the new government is breaking boxes left and right. End of standardized tests. End of league tables. End of other stuff.

May there be a strong northeasterly wind blowing that stuff in this direction.

Anyway, no shortage of great things to read in the eduverse this week.

Here’s to being challenged.


PS: Our 3rd cohort of Change School “graduates” on Monday. But Cohort 4 starts in January!…sign up to get notified!

1. Not Fewer Grades…No Grades

Jesse Stommel is one of my favorite higher ed thinkers, and his latest post on grading is a great example why. He hasn’t given grades in his courses for his entire 17-year career, and the reasoning reeks of common sense and, to some extent, courage. And talk about not mincing words:

Agency, dialogue, self-actualization, and social justice are not possible in a hierarchical system that pits teachers against students and encourages competition by ranking students against one another. Grades (and institutional rankings) are currency for a capitalist system that reduces teaching and learning to a mere transaction. Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.

Wow. And while he writes about his university classrooms, read this piece with a K-12 lens and see if the reasoning still doesn’t resonate. It’ll give you a lot to think about either way.

2. Why Tech Won’t Change Schools

I can’t say it enough: it’s not about technology. It’s about learning. Yet most schools seem to put the tech cart before that learning horse. But as John Warner notes in this great read at Inside Higher Ed :

We’re never going to reinvent school through technology because we’re never going to reinvent human beings, but this doesn’t seem to stop tech entrepreneurs from trying, and in the process flushing millions of dollars down the drain…Those who believe school can be reinvented seem to have a very limited understanding of school and even less consideration of students. Inevitably, they view learning as a problem of content delivery, failing to understand that learning is a social process, happening among and inside of people.

Always good to know that there are others out there making the case for a greater collective coherence on what learning actually is.

3. Personalized Learning as School Savior?

This week at a conference in Connecticut, I was a part of a “debate” about personalized learning which, like many other places, has taken the state by storm. Of course, no one could really define what it was. Some said it was akin to differentiation. Others said it was about student agency. Still others just shook their heads when I asked. As you can probably guess, I argued more for “personal” learning where students have as much agency as possible over the what as well as the how of the school “curriculum.” Regardless, it still stuns me the lack of common language we have around the term.

Even in this long Mother Jones piece about Summit Schools, the growing national supplier of personalized learning software (written by Facebook, by the way,) the terms has little clarity:

While there are disagreements over its exact definition, personalized learning generally means that students spend significant time working on different assignments tailored to their needs, can progress through content at their own pace, and have some agency over what and how they learn. Its champions—including typically private Montessori and Waldorf schools, as well as pockets of progressive teachers in traditional public schools—claim that personalized learning stands in contrast to the familiar classroom structures born in the industrial age: students learning mostly from lectures and textbooks, practicing assignments on identical worksheets, and being sorted based on age or perceived ability measured by narrow metrics. Summit’s additional wrinkle—that it marries personalized learning with new technology—has drawn the attention of education leaders, policy makers, and enthusiastic tech billionaires..

I’m checking on that Montessori reference, but the words “assignments,” “content,” and “some agency” speak to the half measure that personalized learning is, regardless of how it’s defined.

4. Let’s Be Confused Together

In this week’s Shifting Conversations column, I’m wrestling with the problem of knowing vs. not knowing, especially as it applies to schools :

The truth about our work in education is that we really don’t know anything for sure. We don’t know for certain that the things we’re teaching kids are the things they’ll need in order to thrive in their lives. We don’t know that the technologies of the day are, on balance, a productive amplifier of learning in the ways we may hope they are. We don’t know if the roles we’ve created for what a teacher is, what a principal is, what a student is, are actually “right” in terms of what’s best for the kids we serve. We don’t know about assessments, about the rules we create, about the ways we define things like “literacy,” “education,” “success,” and “achievement.”

If we don’t allow ourselves to “not know” more often, the changes we seek will never take root.

You can read “Let’s Be Confused Together” in our ChangeLeaders Community, our exclusive global network of emerging and aspiring educational leaders. It’s where courageous educational leaders get real about learning and schooling.  Try 1 Month Free

5. You Might Also Want to Read:

What Steve Jobs Had in Common With DaVinci

Without Changes in Education, the Future of Work Will Leave More People Behind

For the First Time Ever, a Country Gave a Robot Citizenship

Want a Stronger Culture? Stop Leading and Start Designing

Technology is Not “Neutral” – How Online Companies Manipulate Billions of Minds

Surgeons are Using Social Media to Share and Learn New Skills

Minecraft Can Transform Your World Language Classroom

Silicon Valley Tried to Reinvent Schools. Now it’s Rebotting.

If you haven’t already signed up, head across to our (semi) regular podcast seriesModern Learners.

NEW!!! Book List: Lifelong Kindergarten by Mitch Resnick…Beyond Testing by Deborah Meier and Matthew Knoester…Different Schools for a Different World by Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski…The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath…Leaving to Learn by Eliot Washor…Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart

AS ALWAYS…Would love to hear your thoughts.



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