Monday, November 22, 2010

National Day of Blogging for Ed Reform: How Would I Change Education?

My favorite tv teacher of all time,
Boy Meet's World's 
Mr. Feeny.
He was always interested in his students' futures
and took pride in his teaching.
According to my Twitter tweeps, today is the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform. Teachers across the nation are blogging about the improvements that can be made to change education for the better. Many are collaborating on Cooperative Catalyst, an education reform blog, to create an archive of changes we can implement to reform education.

Though the majority of the blogging teachers teach K-12 and are much more experienced than I am, I thought it was my duty as someone on both sides of the line to chime in (I left high school behind only seven years ago, and I am still taking graduate courses, working towards a Doctor of Arts degree). Plus, as a college writing instructor and writing center tutor, I get the products of their efforts. I get to see the end result of public education.

So, here are my top 5 suggestions for positive education reforms:

  1. Context-based learning
  2. Student-centered inquiry-based learning
  3. Collaborative learning
  4. Digital literacy
  5. Knowledge of politics

Context-based learning
As a student, I find that I learn the most when I can ground theory in practice. If I find a theory useless, I will ultimately end up either not understanding it or disregarding it. I also think that many people feel the same, which is why, as teachers, it is essential that we can show our students how classroom practice can be put to practical use. 

In my Composition classroom this semester, my biggest fear was that my students wouldn't see a need for brushing up their writing skills because most of them are intending to become Physician Assistants after graduation. Luckily, they are smart people with real thirsts for self-improvement, and this was never the case. I do, however, still try to actively make a connection between the types of writing we do in class and how they can use those skills in their future fields. Of course, context-based learning isn't necessarily occupation-related. It is, however, important to know what is going on the lives of students outside the classroom and to find a way to bridge the gap between classroom activities and real life usage. I try to give them writing tasks within the contexts of their lives: How did you learn to read and write? How do you define your beliefs? What are the changes you wish to see in the world? I think, though, that there are millions of ways to make class lessons context-based. Mine are not the prime examples.

Ultimately, by separating the "real world" from "school," we only cause a separation between learning and living.

Student-centered inquiry-based learning
This one is two-fold. First, the classroom should be centered around the students. The students should be leading discussions and doing self-assessments and self-evaluations. They also shouldn't feel that I am the great God of Knowledge, passing my education down to them. In some ways, yes, of course, I can give them tips and tricks to help them succeed, and I can share with them facts and stories that will enhance their learning, but ultimately, students shouldn't believe that they are empty vessels to be filled. They should believe that they are thinking, learning, acting beings who have a great deal to share. This creates more investment in their own educations. Furthermore, self-assessment and evaluations lead to greater self-motivation. Rather than doing things to improve their grades, students begin doing things to improve themselves.

I also believe that students learn most from being inquirers. I don't want my students to memorize the answers, I want them to learn them. I also don't want them to feel that just because they haven't mastered something, they can't talk about it. I want them to be willing to ask questions, investigate, challenge "common" knowledge, and synthesize. I believe that inquiry-based learning promotes critical thinking. Even if my students doesn't know how to solve a distance problem, I want them to know where to start looking for information and how to start solving that problem. In my writing classroom, that translates more significantly into analytical thinking, learning how to interact with discourse communities, and how to engage with texts and research.

Collaborative Learning
Learning simply does not happen in a vacuum. We learn everything we learn from other people, from the internet, from books, from our interaction with outside forces. We rarely happen to stumble on a truth by sifting through our consciousnesses. It takes conversation, or at the very least dialectic thought, to create new knowledge.

Collaborative learning really pushes the idea of dialectic to the forefront. First, collaborative learning is often more fun. Students like being hands-on and getting to socialize rather than sitting in isolated rows and being silenced. Second, collaborative learning allows students to participate in a democratic learning process, which is driven by challenges and negotiations. Third, collaborative learning can help students understand things from multiple perspectives. It allows for empathetic understanding, and also helps them discover the loopholes in their own logic.

Digital Literacy
The internet is an amazing resource. It is a place where you can fulfill almost every curiosity. Want to know about hippopotamus mating rituals? Google. Want to know about Angelina Jolie's latest film? IMDB. Want to make a kite? eHow. Furthermore, I think that we something forget that internet is also called the World Wide Web for a reason. It connects things, much like we do in conversation. You may start off wanting to learn about George Eliot, but eventually, you find yourself more interested in learning about Natural History, all because you clicked a hyperlink. There is more information on the internet than any teacher could ever possibly teach, and it's often available in ways that are way more fun to access than being preached to or reading in a dated textbook. Why not use that to our advantage as students and teachers?

Also, it is imperative that teachers enhance digital literacy because of all of the dangers involved. We want our students to learn to use the web responsibly and safely. We want to end cyberbullying and help our students avoid the overexposure of personal information. By showing my students all of the positive ways they can use social media and technology, I believe that they will be less likely to fall into these traps. If I show them that they can use podcasts, wikis, blogs, YouTube videos, etc. to help them change the world, they will be less like to destroy it or themselves.

Plus-- if you weren't sold yet-- employers find real value in employees who have mastered technology. If you can come up with a creative, up-to-date way to market a corporation's service or products, you become an asset.

Knowledge of Politics
This is probably the one reform that seems out of place on my list, but I promise you it is a vital reform. When I speak of knowledge of politics, I do not refer to asses and elephants, I mean something much deeper; I mean the politics of identity, language, and action.

Teaching students to recognize the underlying politics of their own behavior or of the behavior of others can really change how they view the world around them. This is especially important in our Digital Age, where students' digital footprints will represent them to unknown audiences and stand as a record for quite some time. By teaching them the politics of their actions, students will no longer see things as simply black and white. They will begin to understand that a kissy-face picture on Facebook says one thing and choosing to ignore the internet all together says another. They will understand that calling something "gay" when it is uncool promotes homophobia and that telling someone to "stop acting like a girl" promotes sexism. Most importantly, they will see that these seemingly small and arbitrary choices may reveal much more than intended.

Though this complicates things, sometimes in confusing or even hurtful ways, it is really the basis of reform. If we want students to make educated decisions on the big issues then we should teach them to make educated decisions about the seemingly smaller issues, the ones that they have control over right now, their own representations.

1 comment:

CitizensArrest said...

I would like to see our teachers receive the same respect and support that we have learned to give our soldiers, nothing less. This does not include the Teach For America program, since, if we trained our soldiers the way TFA trains teachers, America would have been defeated long ago, and the Stars and Stripes would be a distant memory.